Le'Veon Bell

NFL free agency: 49ers 'potentially in the market' for Le'Veon Bell

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USATSI

NFL free agency: 49ers 'potentially in the market' for Le'Veon Bell

The 49ers locked in their lead running back of the future nearly one year ago. Or did they? 

On Monday, ESPN's Chris Mortensen said he heard the 49ers are potentially in the market for running back Le'Veon Bell. 

This past offseason, running back Jerick McKinnon signed a four-year, $29.75 million contract with the 49ers. Bell, however, is hoping for a deal much larger than that. 

Chris Simms, NBC Sports analyst and close friend of head coach Kyle Shanahan, told Matt Maiocco that he'd be "shocked" if Bell ended up on the 49ers. It could, in theory, still work even though Shanahan coveted McKinnon last offseason. 

As is often the case, contracts aren't always what they seem in the NFL. In McKinnon's case, all of the guaranteed money in his deal came in the first year, a season that he missed due to a torn ACL. The 2019 season is guaranteed for injury only at $3.7 million and doesn't become guaranteed until April 1. 

[RELATED: Odell Beckham Jr. trade discussions are ongoing with Giants]

There's no doubt adding Bell to the 49ers seems unlikely with the contract he wants and the current construct of the team, but San Francisco did reportedly call the Steelers last season to explore a trade for the two-time All-Pro.

The 49ers have the money for Bell. But if he's a realistic target is a whole different story.

NFL free agency: Does Le'Veon Bell to Raiders make sense after big contracts?

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AP

NFL free agency: Does Le'Veon Bell to Raiders make sense after big contracts?

Damian Lillard is an Oakland native and diehard Raiders fan. The star Portland Trail Blazers point guard was pretty pumped about his favorite team’s trade for receiver Antonio Brown, and took to Twitter suggesting running back Le’Veon Bell join his former Pittsburgh teammate in silver and black.

Bell responded with three emojis – that’s how the kids converse these days – showing someone running really fast.

Will he run straight to the Oakland Raiders? Jon Gruden loves Bell’s game. He would be a perfect scheme fit, but Bell’s expected to make a beeline to the biggest paycheck.

The Raiders have interest in pursuing Bell, but there’s some question whether that’s possible or beneficial to the team after giving Antonio Brown and offensive Trent Brown massive contracts thus far.

Bell should be a hot commodity on the open market, with the New York Jets, Chicago Bears reportedly among several interested teams ready to pay top dollar.

The Raiders have the cap space to go after Bell. ESPN reported Monday they might not have the liquid cash required to do another big-money deal – fully guaranteed portions of NFL deals are placed in an escrow account -- though there should be a hefty amount of skepticism surrounding that notion. That report could play a role in future free-agent pursuits, but even lower-revenue NFL owners can still do business acquiring players and can move money around to get deals they want done.

That’s why acquiring Bell should remain in the realm of possibility. Whether that would be smart money spent is another matter given how many pressing needs remain. If his market unexpectedly decreases, the Raiders would go hard after Bell. It's hard, however, to imagine them matching what other teams are expected to offer. 

Bell would be awesome in Gruden’s system, especially with Antonio Brown keeping defenses honest. Bell can do everything as a rusher and receiver, and carry a heavy workload. Bell’s patient and smart and athletic and steady productive when on the field. 

It’s been a while, however, considering he sat out the 2018 season over a contract impasse with Pittsburgh.

He’s going to want massive dollars to start up again, and paying his market rate might not be the best way to rebuild a deficient Raiders roster. They have needs all over the place, and a few of them could be addressed instead of playing Bell’s freight.

They need a veteran free safety and cornerback depth. How about a slot receiver or a guard or an off-the-ball linebacker?

The Raiders should be able to run well, even without Bell, if the offensive line gets right. Jalen Richard's expected to re-join the fray on a second-round restricted free agent tender. The team has high hopes for first-year rusher Chris Warren III, who spent last season on injured reserve with a knee injury.

[NFL free agency rumors: Live updates, news as early negotiations start]

The Raiders would like Marshawn Lynch back if he wants to return, and could bring Doug Martin back after the veteran performed well in last season’s second half.

Going after Bell must be tempting. The Raiders offense would be scary with Bell in the backfield, the offensive line addressed and Antonio Brown already in the mix. Time will tell if they end up doing that this week in free agency, competing with other teams questing to sign Bell to a new contract.

Le'Veon Bell tweets at NFL free agents to create Warriors-like super team

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AP

Le'Veon Bell tweets at NFL free agents to create Warriors-like super team

Le'Veon Bell tweeted at a handful of fellow soon-to-be NFL free agents -- and one who already is -- on Wednesday, and it didn't take long for someone to invoke the Warriors.

Specifically, Bell hit up free-agent safeties Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu, Earl Thomas and Eric Weddle.

New York Jets safety Jamal Adams then replied to the Pittsburgh Steelers running back (for now), and joked that Bell was trying to emulate Golden State.

Bell, of course, embraced the comparison.

Adams quote-tweeted Bell with the requisite eyes emoji, so you know he's down for the Jets getting their own version of the "Hamptons Five." But, the cross-sport comparison falls a bit flat here.

Although the Hamptons are located much closer to the Jets' home turf than the Warriors' home court, this collection of free agents wouldn't necessarily comprise a super team. There's a lot of positional redundancy, as Collins, Mathieu, Thomas, Weddle and Adams himself all are safeties themselves. Sure, they could each conceivably play different positions in the defensive backfield, but it'd be kind of like the Warriors signing Kevin Durant plus two more starting small forwards in the summer of 2016.

Then again, if one franchise is going to bring that level of ... uh, innovation ... to the NFL, it would be the New York Jets.

[RELATED: Bogut 'kind of blown away' by how Warriors recruited him]

Could Bell find himself very close to the home of the actual "Hamptons Five," at least for one season? Although Adams' Jets are the rumored favorites, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller identified the Raiders as "the team to watch" to secure the star running back's signature.

Oh, and did we mention the Silver and Black could use some safety help?