Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is apparently prepared to play hardball with his current team as he seeks a new long-term contract this offseason. Bell said Thursday he “would definitely consider” sitting out the 2018 season or retiring if the Steelers use the franchise tag on him for a second straight season. Bell added he “hope[s] it doesn’t come to that” regarding a possible stalemate between him and the Steelers. The three-time Pro Bowler played the 2017 season on a one-year tender worth $12.1 million. He held out until Sept. 4 before officially signing the contract, missing virtually all of Pittsburgh’s preseason preparations. Bell would make $14.54 million if the Steelers franchise-tagged him again. To put that figure in perspective, Buccaneers running back Doug Martin is set to have the highest base salary at the position in 2018 at only $6.75 million. In the short term, Bell stands to gain a lot by signing the franchise tender. His desire for more long-term stability is understandable, though. Since 2013, only LeSean McCoy has more touches than Bell, according to Pro Football Reference, even though Bell has played all 16 games in a season just once. The 25-year-old has logged 1,229 carries and 312 receptions. Running back is an unforgiving position for players in their late 20s and early 30s. While Bell is still relatively young, his increased workload in recent years could mean an earlier decline. Bell’s earning power may never be higher than it is this offseason, so it’s little surprise he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get as much money as possible—whether from the Steelers or another team.
The Broncos know they need to upgrade the quarterback situation. GM John Elway, coach Vance Joseph and the players have said it. Change is coming. Another young QB in the draft with the No. 5 overall pick, or veteran free agent? Broncos veteran linebacker Brandon Marshall made it clear which route he expects Elway to take: “In my opinion, we’ve already drafted a quarterback, first round a couple years ago. So we’ve tried that. I think he’s going to get a free-agent quarterback. I think he’s going to go spend some money and fix the position, you know, because it’s kind of a toss-up with these rookie quarterbacks. You never know. But the only thing about getting a free-agent quarterback is some guys will have to go. I hope everybody gets to stay, but that’s just the business”. There is one potential free-agent quarterback continuously linked with the Broncos: Kirk Cousins. That’s the name Marshall conjured when asked if he preferred one particular free-agent QB. “I mean, there’s a couple guys out there,” Marshall said. “You know. We played against a guy in Week 16 that was pretty good. There’s a couple guys out there.” Broncos players — particularly on defense — have been effusive in their praise of Cousins. Shipping Cousins and the Broncos seems almost too easy. The Redskins could still employ the astronomical $34 million franchise tag. Other QB needy teams — Jaguars, Jets, Browns, Bills — have the cash to toss at the QB as well. Veteran players know Elway won’t enter the 2018 season with the same quarterback trio of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch. Despite knowing it might come at the cost of several veteran defenders, those players are sending their message loud and clear: We want Cousins.
The next head coach of the Giants will be Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia or Pat Shurmur, with no surprise candidate looming, and at this point all three are very much in the mix. Steve Wilks, the Panthers’ defensive coordinator, did not make the cut after the first round of interviews, according to someone with knowledge of the Giants’ thinking. Steve Spagnuolo, the Giants’ defensive coordinator, and Eric Studesville, the former Broncos’ running backs coach and assistant head coach, are not being considered for the head-coach position. No doubt, co-owner John Mara, GM Dave Gettleman and assistant general manager Kevin Abrams after the initial interviews established a pecking order. Co-owner Steve Tisch attended only the interview with Wilks, and so Tisch will be involved the next time the Giants get to sit down with whoever is determined to be the No. 1 candidate. Shurmur is a viable option for the Cardinals’ head-coaching vacancy. Patricia was once considered the favorite to land the Lions’ job, and still might be. McDaniels and the Colts could be a match. There is competition for all three, and the Giants likely will have to wait things out. This is a difficult time, as all three are currently involved in the playoffs and the Giants cannot simply take the next step and meet again with either of the two Patriots coordinators or with Shurmur, the Vikings’ offensive coordinator. The NFL has a tampering rule in place prohibiting teams from hiring a coach involved in the playoffs. The rule states, “No contract shall be executed, and no agreement to execute a contract, or an announcement of a contract or of an agreement for employment, shall be permitted until after the conclusion of the employer club’s playing season”.
The Patriots are two-touchdown favorites against the Titans on Saturday, a point spread that’s unheard of in the postseason — except for games involving the Patriots. In the 21st Century, there have been seven NFL postseason games with point spreads of 12 points or more, and all seven of them were in games involving the Patriots. Here’s the full list of playoff games with point spreads of 12 points or higher since 2000: 2018: Patriots favored by 13.5 vs. Titans; 2017: Patriots favored by 16 vs. Texans (Patriots won 34-16); 2012: Patriots favored by 13.5 vs. Broncos (Patriots won 45-10); 2008: Patriots favored by 12.5 vs. Giants (Giants won 17-14); 2008: Patriots favored by 14 vs. Chargers (Patriots won 21-12); 2008: Patriots favored by 13.5 vs. Jaguars (Patriots won 31-20); 2002: Rams favored by 14 vs. Patriots (Patriots won 20-17). We’re so accustomed to the Patriots being favorites that it’s easy to forget they were the biggest underdogs in any Super Bowl this century when they faced the Rams. They won that game, and since then have won four of five postseason games as heavy favorites. The Titans will hope to look like the Giants 10 years ago, or the Patriots 16 years ago, on Sunday.