The Jets grabbed the biggest name and playmaker in free agency, and gave Adam Gase a major weapon for his offense.
Three-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell intends to sign with the Jets, according to a league source. ESPN reported Bell will ink a four-year, $52.5 million contract, with $35 million guaranteed.
Deals can be signed and announced at 4 p.m. Wednesday when the new NFL season begins. But Bell chimed in around 12:30 a.m., confirming he was joining the Jets.
“I’m back in the green baby, let’s get it,” tweeted Bell, who played in the green-and-white uniform of Michigan State.
This is a massive move by general manager Mike Maccagnan as he tries to get the Jets back into the playoffs after an eight-year absence.
The do-it-all Bell is the kind of game changer who will make Sam Darnold’s job easier. Bell has rushed for more than 1,200 yards three times in his five-year career with the Steelers and has caught at least 75 passes three times.
The Jets haven’t had this type of prodigious back since Curtis Martin.
“We want to add as many playmakers as we can,” Maccagnan said before free agency started.
Bell, 27, was the highest-profile free agent available, and can do so much for Gase’s offense and Sam Darnold’s growth and development.
Multiple outlets reported that the Jets had made their final offer to Bell Tuesday and that they had given him a deadline to make his decision. If Bell didn’t agree, the Jets were ready to move on to the next player on their list.
The Jets didn’t want to feel as if they were being used for leverage by Bell. The Jets felt that way last year when Kirk Cousins didn’t immediately accept the Jets fully guaranteed three-year, $90 million offer. When the Vikings came up to three years and $84 million, Cousins took their deal.
The Vikings, coincidentally, reached an agreement with another almost Jet. Linebacker Anthony Barr had a change of heart and backed out of the verbal agreement that he gave the Jets on Monday and will re-sign with Minnesota.
The Jets reportedly took some of the money Barr turned down and used it to increase their offer to Bell, who was looking to start recouping the $14.5 million he forfeited by sitting out all of last season.
Bell had an extremely successful yet turbulent time with the Steelers. They franchise tagged him the past two years, but Bell refused to sign it last season.
He also turned down a five-year, $70-million extension offer from Pittsburgh last year. Reportedly, only $17 million was guaranteed. In the end, Bell got $18 million more guaranteed.
After being tagged for the first time in 2017, Bell held out of training camp and didn’t report to the Steelers until after the preseason. Bell also was suspended twice by the NFL – once after being arrested on a DUI and marijuana possession charges and a second time for violating the league’s anti-drug policy.
On the field, though, Bell has been a workhorse and has had few peers who can match his productivity.
In 62 games, Bell has rushed for 5,336 yards on 1,229 carries and 81 touchdowns. He also has caught 312 passes for 2,660 yards and seven TDs. Bell played in 16 games just once, in 2014. That season, he totaled 2,215 all-purpose yards – the fourth-most since 2005.
Bell caught 83 passes for 854 yards that year. Only five Jets have caught more passes in a single season.
The Jets entered free agency with more than $90 million to spend, and they’ve been active, as expected. Maccaganan has upgraded the offensive line, skill positions and linebackers.
He still has plenty of money and holes to fill, but this move should help raise expectations for the Jets, who haven’t made the playoffs for eight straight years.
The Jets have agreements with four-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley, wide receiver Jamison Crowder and receiver/special teams player Josh Bellamy, and will re-sign defensive end Henry Anderson and cornerback Darryl Roberts.
Maccagnan also acquired two-time Pro Bowl left guard Kelechi Osemele from the Raiders, and is trying to sign a proven center.
The top two, Matt Paradis and Matt Morse are reportedly heading to Carolina and Buffalo, respectively. Maccagnan will keep looking because protecting Darnold and now opening holes for Bell are priorities.