TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have addressed the need for experienced depth at running back by signing former All-Pro Le’Veon Bell.
Bell, released this season after appearing in five games with the Baltimore Ravens, joined the Bucs on Wednesday as the reigning Super Bowl champions continue to deal with mounting injuries that have depleted a strong group of playmakers assembled around Tom Brady.
The move reunites the 29-year-old running back with former Pittsburgh teammate Antonio Brown, who returned to practice after serving a three-game suspension for misrepresenting his COVID-19 vaccination status.
“It’s a great opportunity, obviously, to come here and play with a seven-time Super Bowl champion and play with my former teammate,” Bell said. “I look at it as a great opportunity, and I was just excited when I got the call. It was hard to turn down.”
The signing comes after Leonard Fournette suffered a hamstring injury during last Sunday’s 9-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints, creating an opportunity for fourth-year pro Ronald Jones to move back into a role he lost to Fournette late last season.
Fournette did not practice Wednesday, and coach Bruce Arians said it was too soon to tell how long the versatile running back who’s become a big part of the NFL’s No. 1 passing attack might be sidelined.
Giovani Bernard, another veteran running back brought in to help Brady, was placed on injured reserve last week.
The Buccaneers also lost receiver Chris Godwin to a season-ending knee injury last weekend, and top receiver Mike Evans injured a hamstring against the Saints, too.
Bell is a three-time 1,000-yard rusher who was attractive to the Buccaneers because of his experience and familiarity with Arians’ offensive system. He joins second-year pro Ke’Shawn Vaughn as insurance behind Jones, who’s averaged 4.7 yards per carry while rushing for 337 yards and three TDs this season.
Arian said the Buccaneers will try to get Bell up to speed as quickly as possible.
“It depends how fast he can catch up,” the coach said. “He’s been a good receiver in the past and played in this offense in Pittsburgh for a while. We’ll see what he can learn and what he can give us the next few weeks.”
Since entering the NFL as a second-round draft pick with Pittsburgh in 2013, Bell has rushed for 6,536 yards and 42 touchdowns while also catching 395 passes for 3,258 yards and eight TDs with the Steelers, Jets, Chiefs and Ravens.
Fournette, who left last Sunday’s game in the third quarter, has rushed for 812 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s also second on the team with 69 receptions for another 454 yards and two TDs.
In five games with the Ravens, Bell carried 31 times for 83 yards and two TDs. He said he was seriously considering giving up on football to focus on becoming a boxer.
“This is like the only spot that I felt like could have made me want to play football and go out there and be excited to play,” Bell said. “It’s something you can’t really turn down playing with coach Arians and Tom Brady and, obviously, AB. They’ve got a good thing going over here.”
Bell was one of the most productive running backs in the NFL before sitting out the 2018 season in a contract dispute. He ran for 789 yards and three TDs in 15 games with the Jets two years ago, and combined for just 328 yards rushing and two TDs in 11 games with the Jets and Chiefs in 2020.
“These last three or four years have definitely been tough,” Bell said. “I think it kind of humbled me in a real good way, made me work so much harder.”