Jay Ajayi’s season-ending injury means that the Philadelphia Eagles could be in the market for a running back. As it happens, one of the best in the business has been putting off his return this season to the Pittsburgh Steelers out of dissatisfaction with his contract and a desire to avoid some wear and tear.

All of which had speculation running rampant Monday that Philadelphia might try to swing a trade for Le’Veon Bell. It would take some doing on the part of the team, the player and his current squad across the state in Pittsburgh, but the delicious possibility became the talk of the league, at least online.

It helped that the Eagles had already been linked to Bell, in large part because of a late-September report from Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. He wrote then that they were “among the teams with interest” in trading for the three-time Pro Bowler, although he added that the Steelers were “not in any rush to deal” him.

Of course, Bell himself has been in no hurry to report to the Steelers, and the possibility exists that he might skip the entire season rather than play under the franchise tag placed on him by the team this summer, after the two sides failed to agree on a long-term deal. However, it is likely that Bell will return at the latest by Week 10, an important deadline for his free agency plans next year, and earn a prorated portion of the $14.455 million he was set to make on a one-year contract, per the terms of the tag.

Another important deadline is Oct. 30, the date by which NFL teams can make in-season trades. That fact gave all the more intrigue to reports earlier this month that Bell was planning to report by Week 7, just over a week before that date, which could give the Eagles time to swing a deal.

In La Canfora’s report, he indicated that Pittsburgh was “hopeful” of getting a draft pick higher than the third round for Bell and of being able to ship him to the NFC, if anywhere. Philadelphia could certainly fit the latter part of the bill, and the team was willing to trade a fourth-round pick to the Dolphins last year for a lesser back in Ajayi.

The season, and possibility the entire tenure with the Eagles, is now over for Ajayi, who is in the last year of his contract. The Eagles announced Monday that they placed him on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered in Sunday’s loss to the Vikings, and multiple NFL journalists reported that Ajayi had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

In reporting Monday that the Eagles restructured the contract of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen cited sources in emphasizing that the team “will not use the added salary-cap space to trade for [Bell].”

That information, though, could have been gleaned from a source with the Eagles interested in either maintaining leverage for eventual trade talks with the Steelers or possibly concerned about the morale of the running backs still active with the team. Those players include Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Josh Adams, all of whom have already seen playing time this season.

It’s hardly out of the question that the Eagles stand pat with what they have, particularly as they would still have to clear several millions of dollars in salary-cap space to take on Bell’s contract. Or, of course, they could try to pursue trades for other, cheaper running backs or simply sign an existing free agent. Players at that position currently without a contract include Mike Gillislee, Orleans Darkwa, Terrance West and Christine Michael.

However, for a team off to a 2-3 start while attempting to defend its Super Bowl title, Bell could be seen as the kind of elite talent who could realistically put Philadelphia back over the top. To judge from the slew of reactions Monday to Ajayi’s injury, “over the top” could also fairly apply to the excitement about the prospect of Philly swinging a trade for one of the league’s best backs.

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