The Jets made a major free-agency splash late Tuesday night, when they agreed to terms with running back Le’Veon Bell on a four-year, $52.5 million contract. Here are some of my thoughts on the Bell signing and the Jets’ other moves:
1. The Jets got a good deal here. All along, the demarcation line to me was $14 million per year and limiting the years of guaranteed money, so you could escape the deal after two years if it does not work out. The Jets got Bell for an average of just over $13 million a year, and we need to see the details to know exactly how the $35 million guaranteed breaks down, but it looks as if there is only a little money guaranteed beyond two years.
Free agency is always a gamble. These players are free agents for a reason. It is disconcerting that the Jets seem to be the only team that offered Bell a serious contract. ESPN reported the 49ers made a late push with a shorter deal.
Even though there is risk to this deal, it is a risk the Jets had to take at this time for several reasons. They need to give Sam Darnold some players around him. They can throw some money around while Darnold is on his rookie contract. Mike Maccagnan needed to do something.
Maccagnan put the Jets in this spot with his drafting, which has been largely terrible. Good teams build through the draft. Desperate teams patchwork in free agency. The Jets are a desperate team. They need to get better, and signing Bell achieves that. It is not ideal. It would have been better if Maccagnan drafted a player like Alvin Kamara in the middle rounds. But he did not. So, the Jets were left in this spot.
Even though they were desperate, the Jets did not overpay. Give them credit for that. They were scarred from the Kirk Cousins and Dont’a Hightower experiences, in which they felt free agents used them to drive up their price. They did not let Bell do that. They held firm to a fair offer and came away with the player.
2. Let’s forget the money for a minute and just look at football. The Jets landed the best free agent available, one of the best players in football. Like I said, free agents are free agents for a reason, but Bell’s reasons have nothing to do with anything on the field. He and the Steelers just wore each other out fighting over a contract and decided to move on.
From a shear football perspective, this is a monster move by the Jets. Bell is the best offensive player they have had since at least Brandon Marshall and maybe Curtis Martin.
In 2017, he ran for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns and caught 85 passes for 655 yards and two touchdowns. To put that in perspective, only Curtis Martin (four times), Thomas Jones (twice) and Freeman McNeil have ever rushed for 1,291 yards in Jets history. The 85 receptions would be tied for the seventh-best mark in Jets history … and he’s a running back.
This stat from ESPN speaks to Bell’s ability: He is No. 1 in NFL history in average yards from scrimmage per game with 129.0 yards per game. The second person on the list is Jim Brown at 125.5.
There are tons of ways to analyze this move, but it is a home run strictly from the possibilities he now provides new coach Adam Gase and Darnold.
3. The Jets still need help at cornerback and at pass rusher (which probably will come in the draft). One position that has been focused on is center, but I suspect they like Jonotthan Harrison more than most fans do, and he could be their starter.
I had a conversation with someone inside the Jets a few weeks ago, and they said one of the tricky things in free agency is evaluating some of the big-money free agents versus players they already have who might be cheaper. The example used was Harrison against the free-agent centers people are talking about. The point was that Harrison played pretty well down the stretch last year, when he replaced Spencer Long, and his price tag was going to be much less than someone like Matt Paradis or Long.
At the time, I thought it was more of a theoretical conversation. Now, I’m starting to think the Jets are OK with Harrison there.
The Jets did express some interest in Paradis, who reportedly reached a deal with the Panthers on Tuesday. The Jets did not ever offer him a contract. The way I understand it is Paradis was a possibility if other things did not occur in free agency. The Jets entered with a Plan A for how they wanted to attack free agency. It feels like Paradis was part of Plan B if they did not land some of their top targets.
4. I have heard good things about new linebacker C.J. Mosley. People say he is a good leader and will hold teammates accountable. One thing I have heard from a few NFL people, though, is he struggles in coverage. The Jets play a team twice a year, up in New England, that loves to throw to running backs. Mosley will help in many ways, but I have heard skepticism about how he helps against the pass.
5. The move that has drawn the most praise from people I have spoken to is the trade for guard Kelechi Osemele. People rave about his ability. If he is healthy and motivated, the feeling is he can be a difference-maker on the line for the Jets. There was a feeling that he got beaten down a bit in Oakland last year with the losing and Jon Gruden dismantling the team. A change of scenery may be the spark he needs.