The NFL’s Monday deadline allowing teams to negotiate a new contract for their franchise players came and went on Monday and once again, the Pittsburgh Steelers and star running back Le’Veon Bell were unable to come to terms.
Bell reportedly turned down a massive five-year, $70 million ($14 million per year) offer just hours before the deadline. According to NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala, Bell was looking for a deal that would pay him near $17 million per season.
NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport added that Bell was not satisfied with the guarantees worked into the deal.
All this points to Bell hitting free agency at the end of the 2018 NFL season as one of the most highly-coveted talents available. Even his agent Adisa Bakari told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that “this now will likely be Le’veon’s last season as a Steeler… It became clear the Steelers wanted to pay the position, not the player.”
Bell is already the highest-paid running back in the game as he’s set to make $14.5 million this year before he hits the market.
Even with injury and occasional off-field problems, the paycheck is deserved for such a talent. As one of the best dual-threat talents out of the backfield, Bell has amassed over 1,800 yards from scrimmage in three of the past four seasons, the lone exception coming in 2015 when his year was limited to just five games.
If there were any questions about his durability, he answered them as best as anyone could last year, leading the league with 321 rushes while putting up 1,291 yards on the ground with nine touchdowns. He added 85 receptions for 655 yards as a receiver. The 406 touches were the most by any non-quarterback in the league in 2017, 60 more than second-place LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills. Only DeMarco Murray in 2014 and Chris Johnson in 2009 had more touches in any year over the last decade.
While there is bound to be plenty of interest around the 26-year-old, there is one team that is in a very intriguing position to make a run at him: The New York Jets.
Why would Le’Veon Bell come to the Jets?
It’s worth noting that Bell famously tweeted back in February that $60 million “ain’t enough to run for the Jets,” but things have changed since then.
The Jets are poised to become a legitimate threat in the AFC in two or three years should rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, drafted No. 3 at the 2018 NFL Draft, develops into the franchise arm that he is expected to be. There are wild cards in the wide-receiving corps, but there is plenty of talent with Jermaine Kearse, Quincy Enunwa and Terrelle Pryor.
On top of that, running back Bilal Powell will also be a free agent at the end of the 2018 season while Isaiah Crowell has a potential out next winter, which means the Jets would be in dire need of an every-down back.
Bell could be just that and with the Jets expected to have close to $90 million in cap space, there would be no issue meeting Bell’s contractual demands. That kind of talent in the backfield to support the young Darnold could do incredible things for the quarterback’s development in the NFL while making Gang Green a force to be reckoned with in the AFC East.