MIAMI BEACH — Former Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew joined the growing number of people to say that Le’Veon Bell was under-utilized by Adam Gase.
Bell had the least productive season of his career after signing a four-year, $52.5-million contract with the Jets.
“It’s not his fault,” Jones-Drew, an NFL Network analyst, told Newsday. “I think a lot of people want to complain about Le’Veon and say, ‘Is he worth the money?’ He’s got to get the opportunities. I think Adam Gase didn’t really give him opportunities.”
Bell finished with 1,250 scrimmage yards in 15 games – his lowest total when he plays at least 12 games. He didn’t have a single 100-yard rushing game for the first time in his six NFL seasons. Bell also averaged a career-low 3.2 yards per carry.
The Jets’ offensive line issues were a definite factor. Bell also didn’t seem to have the same explosiveness after sitting out 2018 because of a contract dispute. But some games it was puzzling how little Bell, a dynamic Pro Bowl player with the Steelers and one of the NFL’s best dual-threat running backs, was used.
Gase favors a passing offense and more of a running back by committee. There were times throughout the season that Bell clearly was frustrated. Gase also grew weary of questions about Bell’s usage. All of this led to speculation that this partnership wouldn’t last long.
Jones-Drew, who is friends with Bell and shares the same agent, brought up some internal things that got Bell’s relationship with Gase off to a bad start.
There were reports that Gase didn’t want Bell – who was signed by former general manager Mike Maccagnan. Other reports indicated that Gase thought the Jets spent too much money, and they should have used some of it to address other areas. Gase refuted that he didn’t want Bell. But he didn’t flat-out deny the report about the money when he was asked about it last spring.
“That whole Jets organization is like real dysfunctional,” Jones-Drew said. “You can’t have your coach saying I wouldn’t have paid LeVeon Bell all that money. He’s on your team. You got to deal with it. That starts you off on the wrong foot.
“Le’Veon showed that he’s still that guy when he got those opportunities. They got a lot of other issues. They have to fix their offensive line. They have to do some things defensive-wise. Robby Anderson did a phenomenal job, he’s a free agent. They have to add those pieces as well. I think it’s less about Le'Veon and more about them building around that team to allow him to be who he was before.”
Jones-Drew, a former Jaguar and Raider, said he tries “not to bother” Bell during the season. But he thought he “did a great job” staying positive and being a leader. He also said he believes Bell wants to remain a Jet. That’s up to Gase and GM Joe Douglas, although Bell’s contract may make it tough to trade him.
“Why wouldn’t he want to be back?” Jones-Drew said. “It’s a team he grew up watching. Why wouldn’t he want to play for that team? I don’t think it’s up to him. I think it’s do they want him back - which is crazy.
“People try to make football harder than what it is. You get the most talent you can, you put them on the roster and you coach them up and you hope they get better. When they get better and they become a tight-knit unit then you go out and win games. It’s that simple.”