The New York Jets were the 3/1, +285 odds on favorites to score the well-rested, dual-threat running back Le’Veon Bell, and during the first week of the 2019 free agency period they finally made it happen.
The deal comes complete with its own set of drama, given that the whole point of Bell’s season-long holdout in 2018 was to show his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, that their offer was an insult given his talents as both a running back and receiver.
Bell’s deal with the Jets was lower than what the Steelers’ would have given him, so we take a look at how that came to be and how adding Bell on their Roster has actually improved the Jets’ very low odds to win Super Bowl LIV.
Quick Bio: who is Le’Veon Bell?
Le’Veon (pronounced LAY-vee-on) Andrew Bell is a 27-year-old professional running back who was born in Reynoldsburg, OH in 1992 to single mom Lisa A. Bell (father’s name unknown) and raised with his two older sisters and two younger brothers.
Bell was a three-sport athlete (football, baseball, and track) at Groveport Madison High School and as a senior running back carried the ball for 1,333 yards and 21 touchdowns and was selected first-team All-Ohio Capital Conference.
Considered a two-star recruit by ESPN.com, Bell had limited college scholarship offers until he finally received one for Michigan State, where in three seasons he ran for 3,346 yards and 33 touchdowns, becoming a Big Ten Champion and a First-team All-American and First-team All-Big Ten.
When was Bell drafted by the Steelers?
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, 48th pick overall, the second running back to be selected that year, only behind Giovani Bernard, the current backup to Joe Mixon on the Cincinnati Bengals.
With Pittsburgh, Bell is a 3x Pro Bowler and a 2x First-team All-Pro after running for 5,336 yards and 35 touchdowns and catching 312 balls for 2,660 yards and 7 touchdowns in 62 games over five seasons.
Bell owns 9 Steelers franchise records, including most rushing yards in a game (236) and most scrimmage yards in a season (2,215).
Why didn’t Bell play last season?
Short answer: money and respect.
After the Steelers placed the franchise tag on Bell for the second season in a row, Bell refused to sign it and instead sat out the season, his reason being the offer was too low and didn’t take into account his skills and contributions as a receiver as well as a runner.
It was tough on the team because they were never sure if he would be part of their game plan or not, so right up until the league’s deadline to sign the franchise in November, it was a highly debated possibility that Bell would return to play.
Most experts argue that had he returned at any point, the Steelers would have had a far better chance to compete in the postseason.
How much money did Bell lose by not playing in 2018?
He lost what his franchise tag would have paid him, which is $14.5 million.
Put another way, every game he sat out he was forfeiting $906,250, which went straight back into the team’s salary cap.
Many of his teammates and other NFL players stood by his right to fight for what he thought he was worth, while most secretly (and selfishly) wished he would just take the money and play.
Did the Steelers want to keep Bell on their roster?
Despite some private (and once public) grumbling by the players, the team knew they were better off with Bell and many reached out to him and encouraged him to play.
Without Bell in the backfield, defenses could focus primarily on wide receiver Antonio Brown and shut him down, whereas with Bell playing teams had to account for him as both a runner and receiver, freeing up Brown and others to be the playmakers more often.
What did the Steelers offer Bell to play?
After realizing Bell was serious about sitting out the season, the Steelers offered Bell a five-year, $70 million deal in July that included $33 million in guaranteed money up front.
That means he could have made up to $14 million per season with incentives but was guaranteed $6.6 million on average every year.
But Bell said no thank you, please, I’d rather make nothing and sit the season out.
Why was that deal not enough for Bell?
It’s about how he (and his agent Adisa Bakari) see his value to a franchise.
They argue that given Bell’s ability to run and catch equally as well, he should at the very least be the highest paid running back in the NFL.
And when you compare what the Steelers offered Bell to what the Los Angeles Rams gave their running back Todd Gurley – a four-year, $60 million extension with $45 million guaranteed – you can see that Bell sort of has a point.
Why are the Steelers losing all of their best players?
Good question, given the loss of Bell to the Jets as well as All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders.
With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the three All-Pros were known as the Killer B’s and were considered a yearly threat to win the Super Bowl, or at least be in the fight to get there.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has been accused by many of being too passive about the drama that unfolded around him, but to his credit he put together a 9-6-1 season without Bell and could have been to the playoffs had it not been for a ref calling a phantom pass interference on Joe Haden against the New Orleans Saints in Week 16.
What are the Jets now paying Bell?
Here’s where it gets a bit comical because the Jets are paying Bell less than what the Steelers offered.
The Jets will pay Bell $52.5 million over four years that has a max value (with incentives) of $61 million and includes $35 million guaranteed.
It works out to be slightly less per season, but there is $2 million more in guaranteed money with the Jets deal.
How will having Bell improve the Jets?
Assuming Bell can get back to NFL playing shape this offseason (which is no given but more likely nowadays than it was long ago before modern technology and science stepped into sports), he’ll make a great difference for the 4-12 Jets.
The big problem rookie quarterback Sam Darnold had last season was holding onto the ball too long, which caused him to either get sacked (30 times) or throw an interception (15 picks), so having an explosive player out of the backfield who can both run and catch the ball like Bell will give Darnold some quicker options he was lacking.
And having a player like Bell who gets first downs (291 career) also keeps your team’s defense off the field and better rested, so having him on the Roster helps the Jets on both sides of the ball.
Who is the winner in this deal?
If you ask Bell, he’ll tell you he’s happy because he has $2 million more in guaranteed money with his new Jets deal than the Steelers offered, but that doesn’t really take into account the $14.5 million he lost by sitting out the entire 2018 season.
If you ask the Jets, they’ll tell you they won because they now have a franchise quarterback and running back to build a team around, but there’s no telling how long it will take to be as playoff ready as Bell’s former team is right now.
If you ask the Steelers, they’ll tell you they’re glad the drama’s over, but they have to move forward without Brown and now Bell, so chances are there have been some major tears shed in Pittsburgh’s front offices.
Truthfully (and as corny as it sounds), the fans are the real winners, because we finally get to watch one of the best athletes in the NFL play the game of football again.
How has adding Bell to the Jets’ roster improved their Super Bowl odds?
Put it this way - adding Bell to the Jets’ roster has caused their pathetic odds of going to the Super Bowl next season to shift to less-pathetic odds.
Before Bell, according to Caesars Palace, the odds of the Jets going the distance in the 2019-20 season was 60-1, whereas now, with Bell, it’s 50-1.
Still not a safe bet, but at least with Bell and Darnold the Jets are back in the playoff conversation.