By doing exactly what everyone expected, Le’Veon Bell is boring everyone. At midnight he dropped an album on Spotify, it contained no clues (and it wasn’t very good) and then he signed with the Jets, per CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora.
Bell has since confirmed the deal as well.The news was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN, who also reported the details of the contract: four years, $52.5 million with $35 million guaranteed and the possibility to go up as high as $61 million with incentives.
It’s hard not to see this deal and immediately think that Bell made a mistake by not signing one of several deals the Steelers put in front of him back before he was ever thinking about skipping an entire season. Bell sat out all of 2018 after the Steelers franchise tagged him for a second time, thinking he would hit free agency and make a pile of money, including making up for the $14 million he lost out on by not playing on the tag last year. Instead, as La Canfora noted, his market was soft as all get out.
Ultimately it was one team — the Jets — with the Ravens and Raiders never really materializing as actual suitors. He will now make less per year ($13.125 million) than he was slated to make under the franchise tag last year and he is well below the offers that the Steelers put in front of him previously.
Back in September, La Canfora reported that Bell walked away from $48 million in the first three years of an offer from the Steelers. He isn’t getting that from the Jets — just look at the guaranteed number involved here.
From a pure football perspective, it’s a nice fit, although it remains to be seen how Bell looks outside the safety bubble of the Steelers that featured Ben Roethlisberger, a fantastic offensive line and multiple other skill position guys (Antonio Brown, etc) for defenses to key in on.
For the Jets, this is a pretty major win. They added a bona fide offensive playmaker to pair with their young star quarterback Sam Darnold, and Bell’s ability to be a short-yardage passing weapon shouldn’t be underrated when it comes to how he’ll fit in Adam Gase’s offense. Pair him with Jamison Crowder and the Jets had a nice, albeit expensive, turn in free agency when it comes to offensive acquisitions.
One thing that’s worth noting here with Bell: he never negotiated a contract with the Steelers and walked away from it or refused to play. He was forced to play one year under the franchise tag because of a collective bargaining agreement deal and then the Steelers tried to force him to play another year under the tag. Their offer may have contained a way for them to get out from under the deal more easily than the Jets can. We could see Bell ball out for two years in New York and demand a newer contract. We could also see Bell have two good years and end up being cut as a reminder that paying guys in free agency doesn’t always work out.
But the Jets, like the Browns before them, are going for gusto. They should be applauded for playing chicken with Bell and his agent, getting a good price on a really talented player and ultimately putting their team in position to succeed in Sam Darnold’s second year.
Grabbing Bell gives the Jets an opportunity to focus in on the draft now (we think they’re done with free agency, at least in terms of big signings?) where they can use their high pick to acquire a stud on defense to pair with the linebackers and secondary guys they’ve brought in. Theoretically they have added enough skill position talent to work in Gase’s system, but the offensive line is still a bit of a concern, and they better be ready to try and upgrade some various positions if they want to protect Darnold and block for Bell.
Edge presence should be something they consider too, with Anthony Barr backing out of his deal (Barr hasn’t been playing as an edge rusher with the Vikings but was going to be one with the Jets). Nick Bosa and Josh Allen are both in play for New York in the draft.
As far as free agency goes, expect Tevin Coleman to be the next guy at the running back position to end up signing. He and Bell share an agent, so he’s seen what the market is going to bear and now he can go out and try to land a deal. Mark Ingram and the Ravens are also a pairing to watch, with the former Saints back reportedly engaging in talks with Baltimore — given that the Ravens were theoretically one of the suitors for Bell, it makes sense they might end up landing Ingram as a (much) cheaper backup option.