49ers should pluck Le’Veon Bell off Ravens practice squad
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers have already dealt with a lot of injury attrition over two weeks in 2021, and a perfect reclamation project could be the veteran, Le’Veon Bell.
Not long ago, the San Francisco 49ers had too many running backs with Week 1 of the 2021 regular season right around the corner.
Two weeks into the season, they don’t have enough.
The biggest blow, of course, was losing No. 1 running back Raheem Mostert to a season-ending knee injury. In Week 2, the Niners watched as their remaining three tailbacks, Elijah Mitchell, JaMycal Hasty and Trey Sermon, also suffered injuries. And while Mitchell and Sermon are listed as day-to-day with shoulder and head injuries, respectively, the attrition at this position is already starting to pile up.
Sure, San Francisco has already made some back-end roster moves, adding Trent Cannon and Jacques Patrick. But there’s a bolder move head coach Kyle Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner could make.
Sign veteran tailback Le’Veon Bell off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad.
49ers can afford a reclamation project with Le’Veon Bell
Bell, 29 years old, isn’t the same player he once was when he starred for the Pittsburgh Steelers years ago. And some could argue his contract dispute that resulted in him sitting out of 2019 started the downfall for a three-time Pro Bowler up to that point. He had modest success with the New York Jets before being buried on the Kansas City Chiefs depth chart in 2020, limited to a combined 98 touches over 11 games last season.
That might qualify as being refreshed enough. But more importantly, he’s been durable than someone like Mostert and could also thrive as a low-risk addition to Shanahan’s offense.
In 2014, Bell nearly became the fourth member of the NFL’s elusive 1,000-yard/1,000-yard club in both receiving and rushing, a club highlighted by 49ers legendary tailback Roger Craig.
And while Bell is no longer that caliber of player, he does have the dual-threat usage Shanahan would like.
49ers were reportedly interested in Le’Veon Bell before
There’s a misconception Shanahan and the Niners don’t invest a lot in running backs, instead choosing to go with lesser-known hidden gems like Mitchell, Hasty or even the soon-to-return Jeff Wilson Jr.
Yet that’s not totally true. San Francisco dished out quality money to running back Tevin Coleman in 2019, and there were reports the 49ers pushed hard for Bell that year before settling on Coleman.
Granted, Shanahan had another shot to go after Bell after the Jets let the running back go in 2020, yet the head coach told reporters that year, “I’m good with all our guys,” likely focused on rolling with Coleman, Mostert, Wilson and fellow rusher Jerick McKinnon to bolster the load on the ground.
49ers have room for Le’Veon Bell on 53-man roster
True, Wilson is poised to return from his offseason meniscus tear. But there’s no guarantee he’ll be at 100 percent. Mitchell and Sermon should be good to go soon, too, but they’re both rookies. And Hasty will likely be out multiple weeks, yet high-ankle sprains can be awfully difficult to recover from and potentially lead to season-ending setbacks.
Based on the way things are going for the 49ers roster now, Bell would be a low-risk, low-cost addition to both guard against further injury setbacks while also providing the chance for yet another reclamation project.
Perhaps not totally unlike what Shanahan and the Niners did with their discovery of Mostert.
Bell’s prowess already exists, though, yet he’d certainly jump at the chance to leave a practice squad and sign a deal on a 53-man roster, even if that contract would be at a veteran’s minimum.
Shanahan shouldn’t wait to make the call.