Jamal Adams wasn’t the only Jet to recruit Le’Veon Bell. Quarterback Sam Darnold also contacted Bell during free agency, and he helped get the playmaker in a Jets uniform.
Darnold has put himself on good footing with the Jets’ new star. This is a significant development since Bell, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, said he didn’t have the kind of relationship he wanted with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Bell revealed it was “a factor” in him leaving Pittsburgh for the Jets.
“I would have liked it to be more open, more genuine, more real, like we’re friends, like we’re teammates,” said Bell, who is featured on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated.
Bell painted a picture – similar to ex-Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown – that Roethlisberger acts like he’s above his teammates and the Steelers organization allows it to be that way.
The Jets are grooming Darnold to be their franchise quarterback. But by no means does he have the power that Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl winner, has with the Steelers. Darnold is in just his second season, and carries himself differently.
Now Darnold knows how Bell, who signed a four-year, $52.5 million deal with the Jets, wants to be treated and the kind of relationship he wants with his quarterback. He’s off to a good start.
Everyone with the Jets is.
Bell, a three-time Pro Bowl back, sat out last season because of a contract dispute with the Steelers. He spoke at length at why he feels the Jets were the right team for him at the right time. He said the Jets were more welcoming and that he immediately felt comfortable with new coach Adam Gase in ways he never did with his former coach, Mike Tomlin.
“When I got to the Jets and New York, I felt loved instantly,” Bell said. “When I talked to Coach Gase I felt like me and him are at the same level. He’s not talking to me like I’m under him. He’s the head coach but he’s talking to me like we’re at the same level. When I talk to the GM, he talked to me like we’re at the same level.
“When I first got to Pittsburgh I didn’t get that feeling. Not saying they greeted me wrong. When I got to New York and the Jets, and like the teammates, I felt welcome. I felt it. You can sense when people genuinely want you around, they genuinely want you here. They genuinely want you to be good. ‘We want you to be good here.’ That’s the vibe I got. It didn’t hit me until I was a free agent and I’m talking to Adam Gase on the phone. That’s when it hit me, I’m talking to him like normal. I’m talking to him like I’m talking to my friend. I’m talking to him like I’m at the same level.”
Bell said he and Gase immediately started talking about plays and how he would use him, and asked him what he likes to run. Bell said it took a few years where could talk to Tomlin that way, but he never felt as if he could suggest they run a certain play.
“He’s excited, I’m excited,” Bell said of Gase. “He talked to me about plays I like, and designs, what routes I like to run, how comfortable am I playing different positions. That’s why I’m so excited. I feel comfortable talking to him like that, like, ‘We should try to run this.’”
Bell also said one of the reasons he was unhappy in Pittsburgh was because the fan base didn’t want him to have interests outside of football. If he wasn’t on the field, he had to be working out, he said.
Yet, Bell said if the Steelers had given him the same guarantee as the Jets did - $35 million – last summer he would have signed the long-term deal to remain in Pittsburgh. Bell was reportedly offered a five-year, $70 million, but he said just the first year was fully guaranteed.
Bell said he planned to sign the franchise tag and return to the Steelers after Week 1. But after some of the Steelers publicly criticized him, he decided to sit longer. He thought about returning after the bye week, but he continued to hold out.
Eventually, Bell forfeited the entire $14.5 million he would have gotten from the franchise tag, and continues to say he has no regrets because he’s physically and mentally fresher than ever - and happier.
“I feel amazing,” he said. “To be honest I feel like the decision I made and all the layover and the long sitting out it paid off in the long run. I’m happy where I am today.
“I can’t remember the last time I felt this good,” Bell said. “I literally can’t remember feeling this happy and being in such a good spot and feeling this way about myself.”