After failing to report to team headquarters by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline, All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell won’t be playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018. Nor will he play for any other team.
This draws the question: where will the soon-to-be free agent choose to play in 2019? Although the Le’Veon Bell Sweepstakes doesn’t officially begin until next year, the New York Jets have taken an early lead among the betting public — and there’s a compelling case for the 26-year-old running back to head to the Big Apple once free agency begins.
Le’Veon to the Jets? ? pic.twitter.com/LXDxtYw1x8
— B/R Betting (@br_betting) November 13, 2018
A marriage between Le’Veon Bell and the New York Jets makes sense for a multitude of reasons. From Le’Veon’s perspective, moving from Pittsburgh to New York would be the NFL’s version of leaving Cleveland for South Beach — just ask Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who forced a trade to New York after refusing to play for the team that drafted him with the top overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft. And unlike LeBron in Miami, Le’Veon wouldn’t have to share the spotlight with the likes of fellow stars Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown.
Despite the team’s lackluster record of late, the New York Jets have a dedicated fan base, but one that is in dire need of hope for the future. With the New England Patriots on the verge of decline, the AFC East title will soon change hands. And the Jets could be the team to take the reins going forward.
New York’s roster has its fair share of talent from rookie quarterback Sam Darnold to defensive lineman Leonard Williams. But they lack a real household name. With a MetLife Stadium filled with fans donning the jerseys of players from decades past, Le’Veon Bell merchandise would undoubtedly fly off the shelves in New York.
After giving up $14.5 million to sit out the 2018 season, Bell expects to be paid handsomely in what will likely be a big-money contract for the elite running back.
The New York Jets are a team with money to spend, as they’re $106 million in salary cap space next season currently ranks second among all NFL teams. Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan recently told reporters he plans to be “very active” in free agency next offseason. And if Maccagnan finds himself on the hot seat at the end of the year, signing one of the league’s most talented players would be the ideal personnel move for a desperate GM to make.
Le’Veon wants to be the three-down back he was during his time in Pittsburgh. The Jets are in perfect position to give him that opportunity.
Starting running back Isaiah Crowell can be released with minor cap implications at the conclusion of the 2018 season, and backup running back, Bilal Powell’s contract, expires at the end of the year. New York’s salary cap situation — particularly at running back — is likely a major reason why the Jets inquired about Bell’s availability early in the season, although nothing materialized from the conversation.
A decade has passed since the New York Jets had a running back opposing defenses were forced to gameplan against. And even longer since New York had an elite runner at the position.
Hall of Fame RB Curtis Martin‘s first year with the team kicked off a 13-year stretch that included seven playoff appearances for the Jets. Le’Veon Bell would instantly be the best runner and receiver on the team’s roster, and no one would benefit from his addition more than their franchise quarterback in Darnold, who Maccagnan paid dearly for in the 2018 NFL Draft.
With an extra year of tread left on Bell’s tires, along with the financial benefit of a starting quarterback on a rookie salary, New York could give Le’Veon the expensive multi-year deal the top running back will surely demand.
Bell wouldn’t be an immediate fix-all for the Jets, as the team needs to continue to improve an offensive line that has ranked near the bottom of the league over the past two seasons in many metrics, including Football Outsiders’ DVOA. But with a likely top-5 draft pick and a plethora of salary cap space, The New York Jets could be the perfect landing spot for the top prize of free agency in 2019, running back Le’Veon Bell.