Le’Veon Bell posted a rendering of himself in a green- and-white No. 26 jersey Wednesday afternoon on Twitter. The Jets and their fans can’t wait until the real-life Bell arrives and is taking handoffs and catching passes from Sam Darnold.
Bell was the best offensive player in the free-agent market, and now he’ll be calling MetLife Stadium home.
This was the dream scenario for the Jets when free agency began. It came to fruition after midnight, when they came to terms with Bell on a four-year deal for $52.5 million, with $35 million guaranteed. The contract has a maximum value of $61 million.
Coach Adam Gase probably was up all night going over all the ways he can utilize Bell in his offense and expanding his play book to feature this major weapon.
Bell, 27, is one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL, a true three-down player who totaled 2,215 yards with the Steelers in 2014 — the only time he’s played a 16-game season.
“NYC, let’s do it,” Bell said in his tweet that he ended with a jet emoji. (He probably will have to have a conversation with safety Marcus Maye, the current No. 26 on the Jets, about the jersey number).
Trades and signings were allowed to become official as of 4 p.m. Wednesday. The Jets won’t announce Bell, or some other moves, until the players pass physicals and sign their contracts. But Bell’s agency announced that he had signed.
Getting Bell has raised the expectations for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs for eight consecutive years. He alone won’t end that skid, but the Jets certainly seem to be heading in the right direction — and Bell’s acquisition is a big part of it.
General manager Mike Maccagnan’s goal this offseason was to give Darnold more weapons, improve the offensive line, and add an edge rusher and more defensive playmakers.
Maccagnan has hit on all of these areas, but there’s still more work to be done.
The Jets acquired two-time Pro Bowl left guard Kelechi Osemele from the Raiders and intend to sign former Redskins slot receiver Jamison Crowder and ex-Bears wide receiver Josh Bellamy. The Jets also tendered their own restricted free agent Robby Anderson and will re-sign offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison.
But they still need a center and another receiver.
On defense, the Jets landed former Ravens four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, which was a huge get by Maccagnan. They also had a deal with middle linebacker Anthony Barr. But he backed out and will re-sign with the Vikings.
Defensive end Henry Anderson, whose seven sacks last season tied Jordan Jenkins for the team lead, cornerback Darryl Roberts and linebacker/special teams player Neville Hewitt are re-signing with the Jets.
But edge rusher is a glaring need as well as cornerback for the Jets, who lost Buster Skrine and may not bring back Morris Claiborne. They will meet with Falcons free-agent cornerback Brian Poole on Thursday. Roberts will sign a three-year, $18 million deal, so he could be in the mix for a starting job.
As great as Bell has been, he does come with baggage, but this was a risk worth taking for the Jets.
Bell sat out all of last season, forfeiting $14.5 million because he wouldn’t sign the Steelers’ franchise tag. Bell also has been suspended twice by the NFL for drug-related issues
There are some questions about whether Bell can be as productive as he was with Pittsburgh. He ran behind a far superior offensive line, and with future hall-of-fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and arguably the NFL’s best receiver in Antonio Brown.
Some also wonder if Bell will be the same player after sitting out a year and not getting paid. But the Jets aren’t concerned. They believe Bell is driven and motivated, and can’t wait to see how Bell meshes with and helps Darnold become the franchise quarterback they believe he can be.