Le’Veon Bell is “back in the green baby,” he tweeted late Tuesday night, confirming ESPN’s report that the ex-Steelers running back is returning following a year off to join the New York Jets.
The 27-year-old three-time All Pro, who sat out the 2018 season and forfeited $14.5 million under a second franchise tag, gets a four-year, $52.5 million deal including $35 million guaranteed with incentives up to $61 million in New York.
Back in the green, indeed.
Bell’s decision to sit out a season in the prime of his career after turning down a reported offer of $70 million over five years from the Steelers was unprecedented. And although he’ll never recoup the $14.5 million, he didn’t absorb the wear and tear of a season preceding his eventual “long-term” payday and was able to “choose” his destination.
But Bell returned to an extremely bare market, and while he’ll land right behind Todd Gurley among all NFL backs with an AAV of 13.1 million, he didn’t get the deal he left on the table in Pittsburgh, never mind the ground-breaking RB1-WR2 combined contract he reportedly coveted.
Bell also dogged the Jets not too long ago on Twitter, and they haven’t been to the playoffs — unlike Pittsburgh four out of the past six years — since he was a sophomore at Michigan State. So his camp attempting to conjure this wild market for Bell’s services over the past few days after their reckless decision making over the past year is a bit silly.
Onto the actual football side of things…
The Jets, whom we actually praised Tuesday for what was already a massive free-agent splash, just acquired arguably the NFL’s best running back … the last time we saw him run and catch, exquisitely, but also 14 months ago today.
It’s anyone’s guess whether Bell, the NFL’s all-time leader in yards from scrimmage per game, can return to be the same kind of game-changing weapon he was in Pittsburgh, where he played with a Hall of Fame quarterback and receiver and outstanding offensive line. His production, while prolific, was actually less efficient overall in his final season.
And that’s only part of the volatility Jets GM Mike Maccagnan, determined after trading up last year to surround his young QB Sam Darnold in Year 2, is betting $35 million on. More than that, he’s betting his job on it.
Will Bell be in shape? Will he be motivated? Will he be a good teammate and fall in line under hard-nosed new HC Adam Gase? What other adversity could lie ahead for a back with a ton of mileage on his odometer and a history including ACL surgery and multiple drug suspensions?
The odds in this deal seemingly aren’t great. But Maccagnan sees Bell as a special talent who is apparently worth the risk. Foolish? Perhaps. But the payoff could be huge. And that, of course, is what makes Bell free agency’s biggest gamble and all-in Maccagnan unsurprisingly the one holding the cards.