Don’t get me wrong. Watching Le’Veon Bell run all over the Jaguars, Colts, and Titans twice a year would be a great thing. And the scary flip side of Houston not signing Bell is him landing with the Colts.
But good leadership is never motivated by fear.
While Bell is one of, if not the hottest names on the free agent market right now, throwing crazy money at him as ESPN’s Sarah Barshop suggests is plain insane. Throwing that sort of cash at a pair of offensive tackles will go much farther in fixing what ails the Houston Texans’ roster than any single running back ever could.
In fact, there’s no guarantee a prime Arian Foster or Earl Campbell could run behind Houston’s current offensive line, so committing nearly a third of Houston’s available cap space to a tailback who may or may not have character issues, may or may not ever “try to be the best teammate” he can be, and may or may not stay healthy for an entire season is an all splash no substance move for sure.
Nevertheless, here’s what Barshop wrote:
The Texans can offer Bell $26 million the first year and $45 million in the first three years of the contract, as well as $30 million guaranteed at signing. Even after they re-sign Jadeveon Clowney -- either with the franchise tag or a new long-term contract -- the team will have the money for this deal.
What about the O-Line? Cornerbacks? Kareem Jackson? Wide receiver?
Putting all that cash into one facet of the game, just to watch him tilt at the windmill of the O’Brien A-Gap behind the worst line in the NFL—a line Houston can’t upgrade solely in the 2019 NFL Draft—would simply be gross mismanagement. Thankfully, Brian Gaine, not Sarah, is the general manager (nothing against Ms. Barshop, I’m sure she’s an awesome human being, just not a cap guru).
In another piece, Barshop continued to stump for Bell:
Last season, the Texans ranked eighth in the NFL in rushing, but those numbers were helped by Watson running for 551 yards and five touchdowns. Miller had his best season in Houston, running for 910 yards and averaging 4.6 yards per carry. But while he ran for 100 yards in a game four times, he rushed for fewer than 50 five times, not including a Week 15 game against the Jets when he exited early with an ankle injury.
The mention of Deshaun Watson is highlighted for effect: As if Watson suddenly won’t add to Houston’s run game next season?
The Texans enter the offseason flush with cap space. With about $78 million at their disposal, Houston could give Bell the $15 million annual salary he desires, sign defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to a long-term deal and still have enough money to improve the offensive line.
But those shouldn’t be the only things on the Texans’ offseason to-do list. While adding Bell would provide a boost to Watson and the passing game, Houston also could use another veteran receiver.
While re-signing Jadeveon Clowney is a must/no-brainer, only focusing on skill-position players is what creates losers. Committing well over half of the available cap space to two players, on a team with needs at o-line, cornerback, d-line, wide receiver, running back, and tight end, makes no sense. How can you address all those other positions with $32 million, which is roughly what would be left after signing Clowney and Bell? With Pro Bowl offensive linemen cashing $10 million or more per year paychecks and cornerbacks making slightly more, you could eat up all the rest of the cap space with an LT, RT and CB with nothing left to sign the impending crop of draft picks...much less offensive guards, defensive tackles, wide receivers, or anything else.
With very, very few exceptions, NFL champions are built in the trenches. Teams with the ability to block in the run and passing game, and teams able to stop those facets of their opponents, are the teams that win. When was the last time you saw the Patriots, Steelers, Cowboys or 49ers advance to the Super Bowl with bad line play? In fact, with the exception of the Peyton Manning led Broncos, none of the top five teams to appear in the Super Bowl did so with a below average o-line.
Sure, having Le’veon Bell on the Texans would be great if this was Madden and we turned the salary cap off, but bringing him to town in lieu of so many other pieces this team needs is wasteful and short-sighted. There are plenty of quality running backs Houston can choose from for far less money. If it were a guarantee that Bell would rack up 2,000+ yards, 20+ touchdowns and help Houston hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of next season, throw the check book at him and let him write in whatever crazy number he wants. Reality and history show that signing a big name free agent to a giant contract is seldom a guarantee of postseason success.
Not to detract from Bell’s abilities in any way, but his success with the Steelers is no guarantee he’ll succeed anywhere else, especially in Houston.
If Houston wanted to throw money at an ex-Steeler, they’d be better off going after Antonio Brown, who could be had for far less than Barshop’s proposed $26 mil a year, wouldn’t need to have the offensive line fixed to contribute immediately, and would essentially be plug-and-play in H-Town’s offense.
Odds are, neither will happen. Keep your eyes peeled for Trent Brown, Ju’Wuan James, and a possible a draft day trade for Patrick Peterson long before any of the Iron City (un)faithful end up in Houston.