Tuesday began with reports that the 0-5 Jets were seeking to trade Bell, a three-time Pro Bowl running back with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It ended with him as a free agent, cut loose from the team that lured him in March 2019 with a four-year, $52.5 million contract in free agency.
For that investment, which included $28 million guaranteed, the Jets got 17 games played; statistics that were, almost across the board, notably worse than what Bell had posted with the Steelers; $15 million in dead-money charges against the salary cap this season; and $4 million in dead money next year.
Oh, and the Jets also got off-the-field headaches that recently included jabs at Coach Adam Gase via social media, after Bell came back from injured reserve only to get 14 carries and be targeted on only one pass in a 30-10 loss Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals. “I hate that that’s the route that we go with all of this, instead of just talking to me about it,” Gase said Monday. “But seems the way that guys want to do it nowadays.”
Little wonder, then, that Bell was reportedly offered to other teams and, by the same token, no surprise that the Jets found no takers, especially with $6 million left on his contract this season. It also didn’t help that, per reports, the 28-year-old back had a clause in his contract that guaranteed him an $8 million payout next year if he were severely injured this season.
That clause, though, points to one of the reasons releasing Bell makes a fair amount of sense: The Jets would have risked being on the hook for that financial obligation if they continued to put Bell on the field during this increasingly irrelevant season. Instead, they let him go only a few months ahead of schedule, given that it was a foregone conclusion Bell was a goner after 2020.
“After having conversations with Le’Veon and his agent and exploring potential trade options over the past couple of days, we have made the decision to release Le’Veon,” Jets General Manager Joe Douglas said in a statement. “The Jets organization appreciates Le’Veon’s efforts during his time here and we know he worked hard to make significant contributions to the team. We believe this decision is in the best interests of both parties and wish him future success.”
Douglas arrived in New York three months after Bell was signed and one month after the man who signed him, former Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan, was fired. Gase reportedly never wanted an expensive running back such as Bell on his roster in the first place, and with Douglas, who has launched a thorough rebuilding effort, he likely found a similar assessment.
As Douglas indicated, the decision to release Bell wasn’t just pleasing to the player, who posted a prayers-answered emoji on his Twitter account, but to his agent, as well. That could stand the Jets in good stead down the road, even if they left themselves open to derision on Tuesday.
Bell was just the latest veteran banished from a talent-poor locker room, following wide receiver Robby Anderson, who was allowed to walk in free agency, and safety Jamal Adams, who was dealt to the Seattle Seahawks in July (albeit for a rich haul of draft picks). In time, dumping Bell and Adams may prove to have been well worth it, but the Jets have a long way to go simply to no longer be viewed as the NFL’s most dysfunctional franchise.