Jamal Adams has made his feelings on Le’Veon Bell clear. The Jets star safety wants to add the running back in a bad way.
Now, the question is whether general manager Mike Maccagnan feels the same way.
The biggest decision of this Jets offseason is whether to pursue Bell, the Steelers running back who is set to become a free agent on March 13. The Jets are debating the decision internally, weighing all of the factors.
The reasons to sign Bell are simple. He is a playmaker and the Jets need playmakers. Surrounding quarterback Sam Darnold is one of the Jets’ top priorities this offseason. Landing a player of Bell’s ability in free agency is a rare opportunity. Bell has gained more yards from scrimmage (7,996) in his first 62 games than any other players since at least 1950, which is how far the stat goes back.
Bell has had three 1,000-yard rushing seasons and one 800-yard receiving season. The Jets have not had a running back close to Bell’s skill level since Thomas Jones a decade ago.
The Jets have $95.9 million in salary cap space, according to overthecap.com, so they can afford to sign Bell and not be crippled by it.
Bell turns 27 this month and he had a heavy workload in Pittsburgh, part of the reason he sat out the 2018 season. There are questions about whether signing Bell would be wise. He also has character questions, having been suspended twice for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and he was arrested in 2014 on DUI and marijuana possession charges.
Here are a few of the major issues the Jets are weighing right now when it comes to the Bell decision:
1. How much is a running back worth?
In this age of passing, running backs have been devalued in the eyes of many around the NFL. The latest example was C.J. Anderson having as big a role for the Rams as Todd Gurley in the NFC Championship game and Super Bowl. Gurley is the top-paid running back in the sport at four years, $57.5 million and the Rams claim he was healthy, so what does it say that they chose to limit his touches in the most important games of the season?
Then, there are the Steelers who did not seem to miss Bell all that much this season when he sat out. James Conner, a former third-round pick, did just fine in Bell’s absence. The Steelers’ yards per carry went from 3.8 in 2017 4.3 in 2018, although their yards per game did dip by 10 yards per game. Even when Conner was out with an ankle injury in weeks 14 and 15, rookie Jaylen Samuels played well. He rushed for 142 yards against the Patriots.
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Using premium resources on running backs like high draft picks and big-money deals in free agency has been looked down upon in recent years. The Giants got beat up for taking Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 pick, although he showed his value this season. Still, compare the production the Giants got from Barkley — 1,307 rushing yards, 11 rushing TDs — and what the Broncos got from undrafted free agent Phillip Lindsay (1,037 yards, 9 TDs).
Many people around the NFL believe schemes and offensive lines are more important in the running game than the backs.
Maccagnan has never spent big on a back. As the Jets GM, he has signed Isaiah Crowell ($4 million guaranteed), Bilal Powell ($6 million guaranteed) and Matt Forte ($9 million guaranteed). He has drafted two running backs, both in the sixth round — Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon.
2. Are Bell’s actions in 2018 a concern?
Bell walked away from $14.5 million last season, choosing not to play on the franchise tag. This raised questions about his loyalty to his teammates, which are probably overblown. But for the Jets, the concern has to be about how much money he will be looking for in March.
Not only did he pass up on that $14.5 million, he also reportedly turned down a five-year deal that was worth as much as $70 million from the Steelers.
Bell has stated he wants to set the standard for the other running backs. He has stated this is not about his money but the principle of what backs should get paid.
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That leads to just how much Bell will be looking for. Surely, he wants to eclipse the Gurley deal. He must make his skipped season worth it. So, you are talking about $15 million average per year probably. Would the Jets give him that and guarantee three years to equal Gurley’s $45 million guarantee? That’s awfully rich and I doubt the Jets would go that high.
The Steelers also are considering using the transition tag on Bell, which would allow them to match any offer a team made. If a team goes too low on an offer, the Steelers could match.
3. How does he handle a lottery ticket?
This is the unknown with any high-priced free agent. How do they handle the big payday? The Jets have been burned in the past with Santonio Holmes, Muhammad Wilkerson and Darrelle Revis (the latter two falling on Maccagnan). Trumaine Johnson also could be heading that way.
The Jets must do their research on Bell the person and see if they trust that he will not become content once he gets paid.