There are few things more satisfying than showing up people who don’t believe in your true potential. Everyone can relate to that feeling, but it really manifests itself in the NFL. The amount of transactions and roster shuffling leaves the league ripe with players looking to prove why their former team was wrong to let them go.
That’s never been truer than this year. The 2019 season is loaded with matchups that pit players against their old teams, each with their own backstories of why they ended up leaving. Sometimes it was bad blood, or a contract dispute, or players who were simply replaced.
Whether they admit it or not, those guys are like Raiders linebacker Brandon Marshall: daydreaming about getting back at their previous team. Here are eight players looking to beat the brakes off of their former squads this season.
Le’Veon Bell vs. the Steelers
It’s weird to say this, but we can’t wait to watch a New York Jets game.
The Jets are hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16, which means we’ll get to see Le’Veon Bell square up against the team that drafted him — and let him walk after refusing to give him the guaranteed money he desired.
The recent history between Bell and the Steelers is well known. Pittsburgh placed the franchise tag on Bell for the second year in a row after the 2017 season, but the two sides were unable to agree on a long-term deal. Rather than play under the franchise tag again, Bell pulled off the nearly unprecedented act of sitting out the entire season. The Steelers missed the playoffs in 2018, and after the season was over, Bell entered free agency.
Bell has a clear mission in his game against the Steelers: remind them up close what they’re missing.
But Bell has a lot to prove this season to the entire NFL after a year away from the game. The last time he played in 2017, he led the league with a career-high 406 touches, but he posted the second-lowest yards per carry mark of his career.
He also needs to show he can produce without bulldozing offensive line — he doesn’t get to bring Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, and Alejandro Villanueva to New York with him.
While Bell seems excited to be with his new team, we’ll learn soon enough if he is ready for another season:
At the very least, we all know he’ll be revved up for the Week 16 game.
Earl Thomas vs. the Seahawks
Earl Thomas hoped to retire as a member of the Seahawks, but that seems unlikely now. The Ravens swooped in as a surprise team for Thomas’ services this offseason, signing him to a four-year, $55 million contract in March. That lined up Thomas to take on his former team in Week 7 on Sunday Night Football.
Last offseason, Thomas held out until Week 1 for a new contract, but Seattle didn’t give him what he wanted. Despite everything Thomas had done for the Seahawks, they still didn’t want to commit to him. He was a crucial piece to the suffocating Legion of Boom secondary that helped lead them to two straight Super Bowl appearances. He has the third-most interceptions in the league since he was drafted in 2010, even though he missed 19 games over the past three seasons.
Unfortunately, Thomas’ Seahawks career came to an abrupt end when he broke a bone in his leg during a Week 4 game against the Cardinals last year. While he was being taken to the locker room on a cart, Thomas flipped off the Seahawks’ sideline.
Adam Schefter reported that Thomas’ gesture was directed at the entire Seahawks organization, not any one coach or player in particular.
Now the Earl Thomas train is headed to Seattle in primetime — and the world will see him try to get payback against the team that let him hit free agency.
Kirk Cousins vs. Washington
The theme of high-profile players not getting long-term deals continues here. In Week 8, Washington will travel to Minnesota, where Kirk Cousins can get revenge on the team that franchise-tagged him twice.
Cousins and Washington struggled to find common ground on a contract during his final two seasons with the team. Cousins was franchised for both the 2016 and 2017 seasons before being allowed to hit free agency last offseason. Cousins ended up signing a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal with the Vikings in March 2018.
On paper, it looks like Cousins had a decent first season in Minnesota. His 30 touchdown passes ranked ninth in the league and the Vikings had two 1,000-yard receivers with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
However, Cousins and the offense sputtered when they needed to perform against the better teams in the league. Six of their seven losses came against the Bears (twice), Rams, Patriots, Seahawks, and Saints. The Vikings went 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs, just one year after making it to the NFC Championship Game.