The Ravens have found their replacement at running back: Le’Veon Bell.
Facing limited depth at the position, the team is signing the former Pittsburgh Steelers running back to its practice squad, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed, and will likely add him to its 53-man roster when ready. ESPN first reported the deal Tuesday.
The move comes a day after multiple reports said Ravens running back Justice Hill would miss the 2021 season with a torn Achilles tendon, an injury he suffered late last week. The Ravens also lost starter J.K. Dobbins to a season-ending ACL injury against the Washington Football Team in their preseason finale.
Bell, 29, a three-time All-Pro for the Steelers, has rushed for just 1,117 yards on 3.4 yards per carry over the past two seasons. He had 66 catches for 461 yards for the New York Jets in 2019, then had a combined 16 receptions for 138 yards for the Jets and Kansas City Chiefs last year.
“[T]hey motivate me by sayin I can’t,” Bell tweeted Tuesday night.
His Chiefs contract expired at the end of last season, and until trying out for the Ravens on Monday, Bell hadn’t worked out for another team. The Ravens also brought in former All-Pro Devonta Freeman and Elijah Holyfield on Monday, then another running back, Trenton Cannon, on Tuesday.
With only Gus Edwards and Ty’Son Williams available, the Ravens could add another player at the position this week. Hill’s absence will be most acutely felt on special teams. Cannon, who appeared in 14 games last season for the Carolina Panthers, appearing in 40% of the team’s special teams snaps, could be a possible replacement on the active roster or practice squad.
The Ravens already have the maximum six vested veterans on their practice squad, meaning the team will need to make a corresponding roster move. Offensive tackle Andre Smith, defensive tackle Justin Ellis, safety Jordan Richards, defensive back-linebacker Anthony Levine Sr., outside linebacker Chris Smith or inside linebacker Josh Bynes will need to be released or, if Hill is placed on injured reserve, promoted to the active roster.
This isn’t the Ravens’ first crack at Bell. In 2019, the team passed on signing him in free agency to add running back Mark Ingram, who made the Pro Bowl in his first year in Baltimore before getting released after his second season.
This isn’t the team’s first reclamation projection, either. Last season, the Ravens signed wide receiver Dez Bryant to their practice squad before promoting him to the 53-man roster in late October. He appeared in five games and had six catches for 47 yards and two touchdowns but was not re-signed.
Bell started his career in Pittsburgh with three 1,000-yard rushing seasons over his first five years. But he held out in 2018 over a contract dispute, and in 2019 signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the New York Jets, which included $35 million guaranteed.
After a disappointing first season in New York, he appeared in just 11 games total last year for the Jets and Chiefs. In June, he lashed out at Kansas City coach Andy Reid, writing on Instagram that he would rather retire than play for Reid again. Bell later explained on Twitter that his feelings stemmed from a comment Reid had made to him, but he didn’t elaborate.
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The Ravens will open the season on the road Monday against the Las Vegas Raiders, then face the Chiefs in Week 2 in Baltimore.