The Kansas City Chiefs’ signing of Le'Veon Bell has produced a lot of exhausted, exasperated fans of every other team in the league. It’s one of those “How did we let this happen?” sort of signings. It’s another example of the Chiefs’ arrival as not only a powerhouse team, but a destination organization for anyone hunting for a ring or a spritz of fresh scent on a career threatening to turn sour.
The Chiefs have quickly earned an image of a cartoon supervillain with infinite pockets who seemingly do not follow the same salary cap rules as anybody else. They’ve gone from having about as much money to spend as my bank account has on a good day to giving Patrick Mahomes half a billion dollars while also extending Chris Jones and Travis Kelce before finding enough extra change in the cushions to sign a future Hall of Fame running back a third of the way into the season.
So, yeah, the Chiefs get easier to hate with every signing. They’re the football version of that kid at school who gets everything he wants the day it comes out.
The other response to the Bell signing, however, has been a lot of prognosticating and/or handwringing that Bell’s presence in the locker room will be some sort of insurmountable distraction that will tear the Chiefs apart from the inside.
Bell signed for a million bucks, and the Chiefs can just cut him if he would become a problem, but let’s play along with this.
Obviously, the general perception of Bell’s character flipped almost entirely when he held out in Pittsburgh in 2018. Then his performance dipped significantly once he signed with the New York Jets. He went from a guy who was nearly universally seen as one of the best ever at his position to, as unfair as it is, a guy nearly universally seen as selfish and unable to match his own lofty standards once he got the money he wanted.
Bell is indeed coming from a mediocre year-and-a-half with the Jets. But the Jets are a disaster team that signed Bell to a massive contract despite their head coach not wanting him. Adam Gase is an anomaly. This dude has turned one Peyton Manning endorsement into torpedoing two franchises into graves so deep it’ll likely be a decade before they’re both relevant again. Being coached by Gase is like if you showed up to your job to find out your new manager is the seasonal holiday high school kid who just stares wide-eyed at the POS terminal because he’s fresh off of hotboxing his way to work.
So I can’t blame Bell for being disgruntled in New York. Working for Gase and the Jets would probably be the worst job I ever had, and I once worked at a Buffalo Wild Wings for three months.
Bell left Pittsburgh as a guy who wanted all the money, but now he’s signing with Kansas City for (by NFL standards) virtually no money. He could have gotten more money and probably more touches in Miami. But he chose the Chiefs.
That alone should signal that either the perception of Bell is wrong or that a year and half of dealing with the Jets has changed him. It’s probably a bit of both. He knows he’s taking less money to play for a winner, and he knows he’s not going to be the main attraction of Kansas City’s offensive pageantry. For the Chiefs, this is no risk, all reward.
It might be a little early to say this with certainty, but the Chiefs feel like they have built an impenetrable culture. Rather than be shaken by it, their locker room is more likely to absorb a player with baggage and spit out the best version of that player. Part of that is being a team that wins, which inherently attracts talent and entices them to glom on to that culture. Another big part of it, though, is the way Andy Reid has consistently allowed players to be themselves in almost always healthy, productive ways.
Le’Veon Bell is not coming to Kansas City for an extended stay. He’s here for two-thirds of a season and a Super Bowl run. He knows it, the Chiefs know it, and you know it. And that’s why it’s going to work. He'll give the Chiefs an excellent secondary option to Clyde Edwards-Helaire running the ball and he'll give Patrick Mahomes another player with a unique set of skills to vex defenses with. And all for just a million bucks.
Worst-case scenario, he ends up released for the second time in one season and it doesn’t really cost the Chiefs anything. What’s much more likely, though, is he carries and catches some touchdowns while tagging along for another Super Bowl ride and he uses that to vault himself into one more big contract somewhere else. His stint in KC will be “Oh, yeah, I forgot he played for them!” trivia 15 years from now. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Right now, Le'Veon Bell is a Chief. Then, he won't be. In between now and then, he'll win a ring.