An offseason that has been filled with such promise for the New York Jets is entering some tense territory.
The NFL’s legal tampering period is officially open before free agents can begin signing with teams on Wednesday, a period that was expected to see the Jets become major players behind more than $80 million in cap space. That’s the second largest amount of space available for an NFL franchise this offseason behind the Indianapolis Colts.
It offers the promise of luring big-time stars to the green side of MetLife Stadium, most notably former Pittsburgh Steelers star running back Le’Veon Bell.
The Jets have long been considered the favorites to sign the 27-year-old to the massive contract he’s been hoping for. It’s the reason why he held out for the entire 2018 season after the Steelers offered Bell a deal worth $14.5 million a year instead of the $17 million-plus he was searching for.
Such a deal is a steep price to pay for the Jets, but it is being considered by many as a necessary move to help the franchise move forward. New York has its franchise quarterback in place with second-year man Sam Darnold, but he is devoid of any serious weapons.
Bell would take a ton of pressure off the USC product’s shoulders as a ground game led by him would require a large part of the opposing defense’s attention. Bell would also become Darnold’s supreme security blanket given his abilities to catch the ball out of the backfield.
If only if it were as easy as flashing some cash to get such a talent, though.
As the countdown to free agency draws near, the idea of the Jets being a sure bet to land Bell might be losing some steam.
After trading for Bell’s former teammate Antonio Brown in a deal the Jets would have had no problem pulling off, the Oakland Raiders have entered the fray as a possible destination for Bell. Oakland had to give up just a third- and fifth-round draft pick in 2019 to secure the future Hall-of-Famer before re-negotiating a deal that will pay him over $50 million in the next three years.
With 100-plus receptions and 1,200-plus receiving yards in each of the past six seasons, that would have been a worthy investment made by the Jets regardless of the kind of baggage Brown might bring to the sidelines.
Should the Raiders manage to come away with Bell, as well, it will only be a further indictment of general manager Mike Maccagnan.
However, the Jets GM will be keen on not being put through the wringer again. He and the Jets have been burned in each of the past two offseasons by high-profile free agents.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower leveraged an offer from the Jets to get a new deal with the Patriots prior to the 2017 season before quarterback Kirk Cousins used Gang Green as a bargaining chip to land a monster deal from the Minnesota Vikings.
Should the Jets get a sense that Bell is trying to do the same thing, Maccagnan could pull out of the potential bidding war as to not blow the bank on the running back.