From rumors at the NFL combine to a fake tweet in free agency, there was building anticipation that the Ravens would land the Pittsburgh Steelers' All-Pro running back. Some fans stayed up until midnight Wednesday for Bell's album release and scoured through his tracks with hopes he would hint at coming to Baltimore.
But Bell signed with the New York Jets, and according to a source, the Ravens never engaged in negotiations with him. Instead, Baltimore targeted Mark Ingram and signed the New Orleans Saints' free-agent running back later that day.
Why would the Ravens choose Ingram over Bell? Bell is younger. He's a game-changer. He represented a chance to stick it to the rival Steelers.
Baltimore's decision goes beyond numbers and an AFC North grudge match. This was about finding that perfect piece in a complicated free-agency puzzle.
Here are the biggest reasons why the Ravens pursued Ingram and not Bell:
Value: If the Ravens were one playmaker away from a championship team, it would make more sense to add Bell. But Baltimore needs wide receivers, pass-rushers, interior offensive linemen, an inside linebacker and a backup quarterback. The Ravens would've been limited cap-wise if they paid Bell $13.1 million per season. The better value was Ingram at $5 million per season.
Plus, as offensive coordinator Greg Roman put it, Baltimore is looking to put together "a stable" of running backs. The Ravens were looking for a lead runner in their running back by committee. This explains why Baltimore chose to spend the money on a playmaking safety in Earl Thomas ($13.75 million per season) and the more inexpensive running back.
Fit in the offense: Until Lamar Jackson shows consistency as a passer, defenses are going to stack the box against Baltimore. Finding a runner who repeatedly broke tackles was essential. A powerfully built 5-foot-9, 215-pound back, Ingram suits the Ravens' plow-up-the-middle philosophy. Bell's patient, tiptoe-to-the-line approach likely didn't. Ingram's 2.37 average yards after first contact ranked fifth in the NFL last season (and ahead of Saquon Barkley).
Durability: Ingram has less wear and tear despite playing three more seasons than Bell. In eight seasons, Ingram has totaled 1,549 touches -- 86 fewer than Bell, who has played five seasons. Dealing with foot, knee and groin injuries in his career, Bell has played all 16 games once and missed three of the Steelers' seven playoff games during his time in Pittsburgh. Ingram has missed seven games due to injury over those same five seasons, and he would've played in every game for the past three years if not for last year's four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
Leadership: Ingram provides a positive presence in the locker room and in the huddle, where he can take some pressure off Jackson. How respected was Ingram in New Orleans? "He's the heart and soul of this team," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said last season. It also showed in the number of Ingram's teammates who were hoping that he would change his mind and stay in New Orleans. "Mark Ingram about to pull a Anthony Barr. Stay tuned," Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas tweeted.
Signing Bell would've generated tremendous buzz for the Ravens. It would've been the hot topic on national sports shows and local talk radio.
If the prime motivation is to sell tickets, the Ravens should've given the big contract to Bell. If the goal was to find the best fit, the Ravens were right to sign Ingram.