Le’Veon Bell watch is officially over.
The Pittsburgh Steelers star running back failed to report to the team by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday afternoon, meaning he will not be playing under a $14.5 million franchise tag this year.
To put things simply, Bell will be sitting out for the rest of the 2018 season, a year in which he did not suit up once for. His decision will ensure he becomes an unrestricted free agent by season’s end where he will host an expected avalanche of negotiations to get the contract he so badly desires.
Bell’s five-year run in Pittsburgh has come to an end because of those very contract issues as he looked to secure a long-term, stable deal.
The Steelers offered Bell a deal as large as $70 million over five years, but the three-time Pro Bowler was looking for a contract that paid him $17 million per season, according to ESPN’s Aditi Kinkhabwala.
An expected split between the two parties prompted a few teams to reach out to the Steelers to try and work out a trade. It was an avenue the Steelers probably should have taken considering they will now lose Bell for absolutely nothing.
Among those interested teams were the New York Jets, a franchise that is on the cusp of a few more major changes before transforming into legitimate contenders.
The Jets already have a franchise quarterback of the future in place with Sam Darnold and he has shown the potential to meet those expectations. However, his supporting cast has been poor, including head coach Todd Bowles.
Four-straight losses, including a Week 10 blowout to the Buffalo Bills which Darnold had to sit out due to a foot injury, has put Bowles’ job in jeopardy. An impending coaching change that could happen at the end of this season holds the promise of a new, aggressive regime that will address some of the largest problems surrounding Darnold.
For one, a new center is needed as Spencer Long has proven to be another obstacle Darnold has to deal with while under center. But the running game has also become a sudden issue after an injury to Bilal Powell that could have possibly ended his career.
With Isaiah Crowell as the No. 1 back, the Jets have averaged a measly 71 yards per game over their last four outings. They averaged 135 yards (albeit an inconsistent 135) in their first five games of the year.
Continuing their pursuit of Bell would give Darnold a legitimate star to share offensive responsibilities with. Not only can the 26-year-old bring 1,200-plus-yard capabilities to the ground game but he can become Darnold’s favorite security blanket as a receiving option out of the backfield. In three of his last four seasons, he’s caught over 75 passes.
The Jets are going to have the money to outbid almost any team that comes inquiring about Bell’s services. They have approximately $90 million freed up next year, per Over The Cap, and should not be stingy when it comes to negotiating a deal with such a star.
Pairing Bell with Darnold would not only bring legitimacy to the hapless Jets but it could be the first major step in making them a force in the AFC.