Le’Veon Bell said he grew up a Jets fan because of Curtis Martin, and when the opportunity arose, he wanted to play for them. The Jets made it happen, officially signing Bell to a four-year, $52.5 million contract Thursday that will pay him $35 million guaranteed.
Bell is the most complete running back the Jets have had since Martin, a Hall of Famer who retired after the 2005 season. Bell can’t wait to play football again after taking a year off in a contract holdout.
“It’s the best my body has ever felt in my life,” Bell said on a conference call Thursday night. “My body got so much rest. I got so much built up in me, I can kind of let go. This is the best I’ve ever felt in my life.”
The proof will be when the season starts, but getting Bell was a huge move for the Jets as they try to end an eight-year playoff hiatus and build a perennial contender.
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Bell was the biggest name and playmaker on the market, and has been one of the most prolific producers. He gives new Jets coach Adam Gase a major weapon and will help second-year quarterback Sam Darnold immensely.
Bell said he’s looking forward to being Darnold’s “security blanket.” The former Steeler sees a lot of promise in Darnold, and his presence was one of the reasons he signed.
“Absolutely,” Bell said. “That’s part of it. Seeing a guy like him so young and so talented, and knowing maybe he just needs another weapon. You never know what he can do with another weapon. He’s such a talented young guy. He definitely was a valuable reason that I chose to come here.”
Bell also gave major credit to Jets safety Jamal Adams for all of his recruiting efforts. He said Adams called, texted, tweeted and hit him up on Instagram.
“He was doing everything he could to get me here,” Bell said. “He’s definitely a huge part. He made it happen. I got to give him a lot of credit.”
A second-round pick in 2013, Bell has amassed 5,336 yards on 1,229 carries and scored 35 touchdowns in 62 games. He’s also caught 312 passes for 2,660 yards and seven TDs. Bell has totaled 129 yards per game.
Bell’s workload has been heavy – he led the NFL with 406 touches in 15 games in 2017. He said he has no regrets about not signing the Steelers’ franchise tag and forfeiting $14.5 million, because if he had gotten hurt he wouldn’t have been able to sign this “beautiful deal” with the Jets.
“The stars aligned to the Jets,” Bell said. “I thought about it the whole season just about. I felt the stars aligned. In my head, that’s where I wanted to go unless something crazy happened. I’m glad we made it happen and everything worked out.”
Bell balked at a five-year, $70 million contract extension from Pittsburgh last year that would have paid him $33 million in the first two years. His Jets contract is worth $26 million guaranteed in the first two years. Turning down the Steelers’ deal ended up being an imprudent decision for Bell. But that could work in the Jets’ favor if he’s motivated to maximize his earning potential.
“The Jets are kind of the team that I had in the back of my mind where I wanted to go,” Bell said. “Once the numbers made sense to me, it wasn’t really a hard decision. I made the decision and I’m happy with the decision I made. I woke up today feeling amazing. I’m happy where I stand.”
The Jets also came to terms Thursday on a one-year, $3.5 million deal with former Falcons cornerback Brian Poole. He will replace Buster Skrine, who is headed to the Bears.
The trade for guard Kelechi Osemele also became official. The Jets sent the Raiders a fifth-round pick (No. 140) for Osemele and a sixth-rounder (196).
Crowell waived. The Jets waived running back Isaiah Crowell, who signed as a free agent last year. He would have been due $2 million of his $4 million base salary this season if he had still been on the team Friday. It will clear around $3 million off the salary cap.
Crowell had an inconsistent season and acted unprofessionally, drawing the ire of Todd Bowles for wiping the football on his backside after scoring a touchdown in Cleveland and later signing an endorsement deal with Dude Wipes, a flushable toilet paper substitute.
The Jets re-signed nose tackle Steve McLendon (one year, $2.5 million), cornerback Daryl Roberts (three years, $18 million) and offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison.