The Kansas City Chiefs' acquisition of Le'Veon Bell on Thursday evening may seem like the classic case of a flush NFL powerhouse getting richer. And while there's no way to counter such a notion, it's also fair to view this as a move the reigning Super Bowl champions needed to make if they're to become the first team since the 2004 New England Patriots to successfully defend their crown.
Here are six reasons why signing Bell was part necessity and part shrewd roster management on K.C.'s part:
1. Depth: Damien Williams' decision to opt out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic has left the Chiefs vulnerable behind first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who leads the team (by far) with 98 touches and 513 yards from scrimmage through five games. The trio of backs behind him – Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson and DeAndre Washington – have provided scant relief, combining for 23 touches and 102 yards. Bell, who can spell Edwards-Helaire outright but also be deployed on the field with him simultaneously, should more than help with load management – perhaps vital considering the rookie finished with 270 touches in LSU's 15-game march to the national title in 2019 before rolling into a the NFL's often-grueling draft process. There's a reason first-year players so often hit a wall in November.
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New York Jets running back Le'Veon Bell (26) reacts after his game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium. (Photo: Vincent Carchietta, USA TODAY Sports)
2. Experience: It remains to be seen if mentorship is a role Bell will embrace, but a two-time All-Pro with six-plus seasons of NFL football under his belt can teach Edwards-Helaire plenty by simply reverting to a reasonably close facsimile of the multi-dimensional threat he used to be – which seems likely enough as he departs the New York Jets' wasteland of an offense for a Chiefs arsenal that is the envy of the league. And unlike Edwards-Helaire, Bell offers playoff experience – something Kansas City might sorely miss given the absence of Williams, who owns a franchise record 10 postseason touchdowns (including two in February's Super Bowl LIV win over the 49ers).
3. Utility: When right, Bell is the league's premier route-running back, perfectly capable of maneuvering out of the backfield, lining up wide or in the slot. No, he hasn't flashed superstar form since 2017, when he led the NFL with 406 touches (including 85 receptions). But what defense is going to double team him at the expense of focusing on wideout Tyreek Hill and/or tight end Travis Kelce and/or speed merchants Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins (who is expected to miss time with a hamstring issue)? While Bell has occasionally bridled at the way he's been utilized – or, in the Jets' case, his lack of a featured role – over the years, don't expect him to cross coach Andy Reid, who has a rich history of leveraging do-it-all backs. Just ask Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Kareem Hunt and even Williams, who blossomed under Reid's tutelage.
4. Culture: Bell didn't depart Pittsburgh or New York with a reputation as a good soldier. But little reason to think he won't quickly fall in line upon his arrival at Arrowhead Stadium. As much of a boost as he can provide, Bell needs the Chiefs more than they need him. And a locker room patrolled by the likes of Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and veteran safety Tyrann Mathieu seems unlikely to allow Bell to indulge some of the negative impulses he displays on social media. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, a former NFL running back himself, might be an ideal taskmaster when it comes to putting Bell back on track.
5. Money: Bell will collect nearly $30 million for fewer than two uninspired seasons with the Jets. But this new chance not only allows him to showcase himself in an explosive attack, it's a golden opportunity to potentially set himself up for one more decent payday once free agency arrives in 2021. As heavily as the Steelers used him (about 25 touches per outing from 2013 to 2017), his workload for the Jets was roughly 20% less per game – and he only played in two games this year and sat out all of 2018 amid a contract dispute in Pittsburgh. He's only 28 and can prove he's got plenty of zip left after enduring relatively light punishment over the past three years.
6. AFC West arms race: Good as the Chiefs are – and that's a nod not only to last season's Lombardi Trophy, but also to Kansas City's four consecutive division titles and a 4-1 mark currently good for first place – they're not without flaws. They struggled to beat the Chargers in Week 2, when Bolts rookie quarterback Justin Herbert was thrust into his NFL debut due to Tyrod Taylor's medical mishap before kickoff. Two weeks later, Kansas City was less than dominant against a Patriots team stripped of so many key defensive players from 2019 and without quarterback Cam Newton, who was quarantined. Then came last Sunday's 40-32 loss to the Raiders, who prevailed at Arrowhead for the first time in eight years while pulling within a game of Kansas City in the AFC West standings. And it wasn't a fluky win. Las Vegas showed it has the weapons to successfully engage in a track meet with Reid's troops, and even the Silver and Black's middling defense stepped up after halftime to clamp down on Mahomes and Co., allowing just 103 yards and eight points over the final two quarters.
This appears like a classic win-win. The Chiefs remained prohibitive favorites to chart at least a Super Bowl return without Bell. But while he may be a relatively low-risk investment, Bell might also be the final variable for solving what could be a dynastic equation.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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