Those notorious serial tire-kickers John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan made one of their famous exploratory calls recently, this time to inquire about decertified running back -- and current Pittsburgh Steeler -- Le’Veon Bell.
Which is fine, given that phone calls are relatively cheap, even now. On Monday, Bell told ESPN he expects that interest will extend into the offseason when he becomes a free agent.
Until then, Bell, who has allegedly planned to return to active Steelerhood before Week 8 (four weeks from Week 5, which is Week This), would apparently cost the 49ers an active player and a second-round draft choice, which may be more than Lynchahan would want to spend.
But desperate times call for overspending measures, so we are already at the second-level questions:
1. Do the 49ers believe themselves contenders in 2018 with Bell? I mean, they shouldn’t, but let’s play along. After all, barring the meteor finally taking us all out, there will be a 2019 season too, and they didn’t wait until 2018 to get Jimmy Garoppolo.
2. Do they think Bell, whose injury history and a brush with the substance abuse policy in 2016, represents a worthwhile risk? They should, because he is metric tons better than what they currently have, and surely understands how to evade even minor trouble for a team that genuinely wants him. The injury stuff? Well, Garoppolo’s walking one leg right now, so things happen.
3. Are they willing to commit that much live currency and contractual money to an exemplary running back? Well, only they know how much is too much, but Garoppolo got too much for his resume, if that helps.
A Bell trade seems like a risk worth taking for a risk-friendly operation like San Francisco’s, but we suspect that “exploratory calls” wouldn’t be leaked to the press if they were going to lead to something less exploratory and more discovered. In other words, this looks like thinking of the wishful kind.
But one can surely understand Bell’s point of view, given that he is getting his leverage squeezed by the notably dollar-strangly Rooney family and just watched Earl Thomas ride off into the sunset with a middle finger raised toward his own bullheaded future former employers in Seattle.
Bell is preserving the tread on his tires in hopes of establishing a market closer to his contributions, while the Steelers are holding firm to a principle that every dollar that isn’t spent is a dollar kept, and for them, running back dollars are particularly worth retaining.
And no, don’t skull us with that “Well, he should report and play because I’d play for $14.5 million a year.” You’re not him, otherwise the Rooneys would be calling you, and they’re not, ever.
This is your basic NFL negotiation, a largely unfair game in which a player’s only leverage is his services. Bell wants what Thomas wanted, and what Khalil Mack got – a system in which the best players at an important position get rewarded the way quarterbacks of less impressive resumes do.
Or to put it locally, he wants what Garoppolo got, relative to his position, and he has far better credentials to show.
But are the 49ers that team? A phone call says they could be. The 2019 roster says they should be.
And nobody wants to see another Earl Thomas story, except maybe general managers who consider getting flipped off in public part of the fun of the job.