Le’Veon Bell remembers being on the other sideline when Miami running back Jay Ajayi ran for 204 yards against the Steelers. The Dolphins’ coach was Adam Gase.
Bell, the Jets’ marquee free-agent signing, is confident that Gase will be able to help quarterback Sam Darnold. The three-time Pro Bowler, who believes he’s the best running back in the game, also is excited to see what Gase can do for him.
“I know he knows how to utilize running backs,” Bell said. “I’ve been talking to him about different ways he can use me and how excited he is with me. I’m excited. It’s been a long process. I’m ready to just go out there and play. Time will tell when we get there, we’ll see what happens. But I’m confident and I’m excited to play for Coach Gase.”
Bell acknowledges there will be some rust and that he needs to get into game shape after sitting out all of 2018 over a contract dispute with the Steelers.
He said he’s been working out five days a week in shorts and a T-shirt. It’s not the same as when he’s in football pads and taking hits, but he believes he should be ready to go after minicamp, OTAs and training camp.
The Jets gave Bell a four-year, $52.5 million contract — $35 million of it guaranteed — to not only be a weapon that gives defensive coordinators sleepless nights but to make Darnold’s job easier as he tries to make the strides necessary to be a franchise quarterback.
Gase will be in Darnold’s ear, helping him. But it also helps when you have someone as talented and versatile as Bell to take some of the pressure off.
“When you’re coaching young quarterbacks, you want to get them to process quickly, especially on base downs,” quarterback Josh McCown said on SiriusXM NFL Radio last week. “Get that ball out of your hand, get completions.
“Sometimes it’s hard to teach a young quarterback that, because he’s going, ‘Man, who am I checking it down to?’ When it’s Le’Veon Bell, it’s easy to go, ‘Hey, man, process this read. And if you don’t love it, check the ball down, get it into his hands and let him go.’ I think from that standpoint, it’s a huge addition.”
Getting Bell and four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who inked a five-year, $85 million deal, were the highlights of the first wave of free agency for the Jets. They also acquired two-time Pro Bowl left guard Kelechi Osemele.
Their other moves included signing slot receiver Jamison Crowder, cornerback Brian Poole and receiver Josh Bellamy and re-signing defensive end Henry Anderson, cornerback Darryl Roberts and offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison.
General manager Mike Maccagnan has been busy and has addressed areas of need. It still might not be enough to end the Jets’ eight-year playoff drought, but Maccagnan still has roster spots open and important positions to fill.
First and foremost, the Jets need an edge rusher. The best two left on the open market are former Chief Justin Houston and ex-Lion Ezekiel Ansah. Neither are young players the Jets hope to build around, but both of them would be major upgrades and short-term solutions.
Houston, 30, has 78 1⁄2 tackles in eight seasons and has averaged 11 1⁄2 sacks in the seven years in which he started at least 11 games. Ansah, who turns 30 in May, has had at least 12 sacks twice in the last four seasons.
The Jets also could grab an edge rusher in the draft with the No. 3 pick. Ohio State’s Nick Bosa and Kentucky’s Josh Allen are potential picks.
Offensive line is another area that needs addressing, as protecting Darnold and creating holes for Bell are priorities. If nothing arises in free agency, the draft could be where the Jets add more depth to that spot, although Maccagnan has taken only one offensive lineman (Brandon Shell) in his last 22 picks.
The Jets didn’t get one of the centers they targeted (Matt Paradis and Mitch Morse) in free agency. They could go with Harrison, who did a good job filling in for Spencer Long. They still need a No. 1 receiver, but Bell believes the Jets are on the rise.
“There’s a lot of talent on the offensive side,” he said. “Obviously, guys are young, with a young quarterback. They brought over a good free agent in Crowder at wide receiver — he’s going to make plays. I think they’re getting better up front. And I’ve always been high on the Jets’ defense. They’ve always had good players and talent throughout my career.
“The situation I’m in right now, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”
ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES
Le’Veon Bell, RB: Free agent from Steelers
C.J. Mosley, ILB: Free agent from Ravens
Kelechi Osemele, LG: Acquired in trade with Raiders
Jamison Crowder, WR: Free agent from Redskins
Josh Bellamy, WR: Free agent from Bears
Brian Poole, CB: Free agent from Falcons
Chandler Catanzaro, K: Free agent from Panthers
BACK IN THE FOLD
Henry Anderson, DE: Re-signed
Steve McLendon, NT: Re-signed
Daryl Roberts, CB: Re-signed
Jonotthan Harrison, OL: Re-signed
Neville Hewitt, LB: Resigned
Andre Roberts, WR/KR/PR: Free agent to Bills
Jason Myers, K: Free agent to Seahawks
Buster Skrine, CB: Free agent to Bears
James Carpenter, LG: Free agent to Falcons
Isaiah Crowell, RB: Waived
Terrence Brooks, S: Free agent to Patriots
Mike Pennel, DL: Free agent to Patriots
Clive Walford, TE: Free agent to Dolphins
Spencer Long, C: Waived, free agent to Bills
GRADE (THUS FAR): B
The Jets signed and acquired three impactful Pro Bowl players (running back Le’Veon Bel, linebacker C.J. Mosley and left guard Kelechi Osemele). These were great moves for GM Mike Maccagnan. He almost pulled off an even bigger coup, but four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr backed out of a verbal agreement. Bringing back defensive end Henry Anderson, a find last season, added to this successful offseason thus far. But not getting one of the top centers Matt Paradis (three years, $29 million from Carolina) and Mitch Morse (four years, $45 million from Buffalo) were hits, as was losing Pro Bowl returner Andre Roberts and kicker Jason Myers. Paradis’ deal leads you to believe the Jets could have gotten something done with him. The Jets still have work to do – edge rusher, center, top receiver. The draft will be big for them. But the first week, all things considered, went well.