The Jets’ sweeping remake took a monumentally positive turn just after the stroke of midnight.
After an already consequential upgrade that included Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosely, Pro Bowl guard Kelechi Osemele and highly regarded slot receiver Jamison Crowder, the news broke that former Steelers All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell had decided to bring his talents to New York.
Just four hours after the bombshell announcement that the Giants had dispatched their most talented receiver in franchise history, the Jets followed up the Odell Beckham trade with the expected signing of another generational talent in Bell. General manager Mike Maccagnan thus made one of the most consequential moves of his tenure.
Bell provides an immediate and desperately needed upgrade for the Jets’ offense, and second-year quarterback Sam Darnold will now have one of the most gifted tailbacks at his disposal for what is sure to be a dramatically improved cast under first-year coach Adam Gase. Bell may have previously considered the Jets anathema — he once tweeted he wouldn’t take $60 million from a team widely considered dysfunctional and underachieving — but it was the Jets who offered him the most money in what turned out to be an undervalued market for the 27-year-old running back.
Bell had hoped to get far more than the $14 million he passed up last year in skipping the entire season with the Steelers. With ESPN reporting the Jets’ deal to be for four years worth $52.5 million, that’s a shade more than $13 million per, a handsome salary by almost any standards, even if it’s less than Bell had envisioned. The running back position has steadily been devalued in the NFL, with teams no longer afraid to find running backs in the middle of the draft and not invest heavily in runners on their second and third contracts.
But Bell offers a unique skill set that will surely help the Jets, both now and into the future. Bell rushed for a combined 2,559 yards and 16 touchdowns in his last two seasons with the Steelers in 2016-17 and was a key part of Pittsburgh’s playoff runs in recent years. He has brilliant field vision, often hesitating behind the line of scrimmage after taking the handoff to see where the opening in his offensive line will be created and then dashing upfield on so many electrifying runs.
You simply don’t find many athletes as gifted as Bell, and he now joins a Jets team that has dramatically improved its roster over the last few days and figures to add more firepower in the draft. Perhaps Maccagnan will take a bona fide edge rusher such as Kentucky’s Josh Allen with the third overall pick. Or else Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. Or maybe he’ll trade down and continue revamping the offensive line and other positions by securing multiple picks.
Whatever the case, Maccagnan has put the Jets on much more secure footing with his latest moves. He did lose out on the chance to bring in outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who had a change of heart after agreeing to terms with the Jets on Monday night and decided to remain in Minnesota. But Bell’s acquisition more than makes up for the disappointment of Barr’s about-face.
There is still work to be done, with the Jets needing to bolster the cornerback position, upgrade the pass rush and improve the offensive line. Maccagnan can also use another outside receiver to complement Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa. But his team right now is significantly better than the one he had just a week ago. And with the Giants now staggering after the trade of Beckham, which signals a complete rebuild, the Jets will almost certainly capture the imagination of New York in the immediate and possibly the long-term future.
Giants GM Dave Gettleman passed up the chance to draft Darnold and secure his quarterback position for years to come, and Maccagnan benefited handsomely when the Giants chose Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick in 2018. If Darnold turns out to be the real deal — and he certainly showed enough last year to indicate that is entirely possible — then the Jets have a bright future.
Bell is now a part of that future, and the Jets can be thankful the market played out just as it did.
They didn’t overpay for a running back still in his prime, and they got a difference-maker for a team in dire need of one.