NFL ANALYST

Cassel: Why signing Le'Veon Bell is a bad idea for Patriots

NFL ANALYST

Success for a running back is just like success for a quarterback and any good offense: It starts with the offensive line.

Le'Veon Bell played behind one of the NFL's best offensive lines with the Pittsburgh Steelers and had a veteran quarterback with good receivers around him, so it wasn’t all on him.

Teams couldn’t just key on him and load the box to stop the run because of the weapons the Steelers had on the outside.

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Then he goes to the Jets, and it’s a completely different personnel situation: a struggling offensive line and not a lot of weapons on the outside. Defenses can focus on trying to stop the run and take away parts of the passing game where he's had success.

Here's the other part of it: You’re dealing with a guy who has had success in the past but now isn't having success, especially with the salary he’s getting. I don’t think they released him just because they thought he couldn’t play anymore. I think part of it was also that he was disgruntled and pissed off about his lack of production.

As a GM, I’m looking at that situation and saying, “There obviously was something going on in terms of how he was acting and the type of teammate he was,” because I don’t think you get rid of a guy with that type of skill set just because you’re struggling. It’s because he forced himself out in some capacity. So, that’s a major concern for me.

 

No. 2 is, where does he fit into your offensive scheme and what are his expectations? Does he think he's just going to get a bunch of touches and have success? And when there’s any possibility of him not having success, are you going to be in the same position that the Jets are in right now, where he’s disgruntled and now he creates more problems for you internally?

I don’t know all the specifics, but I have to think there was some issue with his behavioral pattern, and that would be a big sounding alarm for me.

I don't think the Patriots would go the route of signing Bell, especially with their current offensive structure.

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They have Sony Michel and Damien Harris, who are bigger backs who run downhill. They have Rex Burkhead, who is as consistent as they come in the screen game and passing game, and then James White, who is an outstanding option out of the backfield. Even JJ Taylor showed up against the Raiders and gave them a huge spark in the second quarter.

The "running back by committee" approach has worked for them. It keeps those guys fresh, and they have different talents that can be used in different schemes, whether it’s running to the outside on that crack sweep or running downhill in the "I" formation.

That goes back to New England’s thought process, which is always to put players in a position to be successful and what they do really well. They don’t gravitate away from that. 

The strength of this offense is the offensive line, and they have guys in the backfield who can present different problems for defenses: Michel and Harris can run between the tackles, while White and Burkhead also can be split out wide when the Patriots go empty because they’re such good route runners. That definitely gives you versatility from a play-calling standpoint.

The Patriots have four or five capable backs who have all proven they can perform in some capacity. So, bringing in a guy like Le’Veon Bell who has obviously had some issues off the field? That's not something you want to do in the middle of the season if he could create disruption for your offensive unit, no matter how talented he is.