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The Le’Veon Bell saga came to an end on March 12; the star running back finally found a new home, signing with the New York Jets, according to ESPN.
The 27-year-old held out the entire 2018 season because his former employers, the Pittsburg Steelers, did not offer him the long-term deal he was looking for. And instead of adding mileage and putting his body at risk ahead of free agency, Bell opted to avoid playing to stay fresh in hopes of reaching it healthy.
The specific details of the deal are still unclear, but it’s for a reported $52.5 million, with $35 million of it guaranteed, and could possibly be as high as $61 million. But it’s these numbers that are what make the conclusion to this rollercoaster ride a bit anticlimactic. Considering the deal from the Steelers the running back turned down and the $14.5 million he lost by not playing this past season, it’s hard to say that he attained his goal because he did not make up any of the money he lost.
He is a generational player in his prime who leads all players in NFL history that have played in at least 50 games, with 129 yards-from-scrimmage per game. For his career, he has 5,336 rush yards (4.3 yards-per-carry), 2,660 receiving yards and 42 touchdowns in 62 games. And the last time we saw Bell, he put up over 1,900 yards from scrimmage with 11 touchdowns, which pointed to him resetting the market for running backs, but he failed in doing so.
Nonetheless, the Jets won’t care about that as they added arguably the best player in free agency and one of the game’s true elites to their roster. Bell will bolster a running game that ranked 26th out of 32 last season and adds support to second-year quarterback Sam Darnold, who had hardly anything to work with the previous season.
In 13 games, the 21-year-old (youngest QB to start a season opener) threw for 2,865 yards, 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions on 57.7% completion and accumulated a below-average 77.6 rating.
But we must remember the situation Darnold was in. He had no running game, no great pass-catching threat, and no offensive line to protect him. And when he returned from his month-long foot injury, he finished off the season strong, throwing for 931 yards, six touchdowns, one interception and a 99.1 passer rating over the last four weeks of 2018. He looked a lot more comfortable and was making better decisions.
And he should only get better with the addition of Bell. A young quarterback’s best friend is a running game because it takes pressure off him and opens up the play-action.
The Jets have a respectable, but not great, trio of wide receivers, but having Bell changes everything because he isn’t just a running back. Not only can he run and block but he is also an excellent pass-catcher out of the backfield or slot, which is rare to find.
In 2017 alone, Michigan State alum caught 85 passes, which is approaching elite territory for wide receivers, let alone running backs. And he may be the best receiver on the team.
Bell has a great feel for the game and is excellent at anticipating pressure and rolling out at the last second to get open for a short throw. And those are the types of throws Darnold will be able to make that he wasn’t able to consistently do as a rookie.
The 21-year-old will not have to force himself into errant throws (as often) because he will almost always have a safety valve in Bell, who he will be able to make the easy check-down throws to. And if Darnold is consistently doing so, he will be able to get into a rhythm while the rest of the field slowly opens up.
It’s hard to see anything wrong with the deal on the Jets’ side of things other than the fact that Bell took a year off from the game. But if reports on his work ethic are to be believed, it shouldn’t be too risky.