• A few outtakes from Le’Veon Bell’s interview that didn’t make the SI magazine cover story, including how the new Jets running back thinks he hasn’t hit his ceiling yet as a player.
By Jenny Vrentas
March 20, 2019

An few additional outtakes from Sunday’s sit-down interview with new Jets running back Le'Veon Bell that didn’t quite make it into the SI magazine cover story...

He thinks he hasn’t hit his ceiling yet as a player.

Bell’s career-high yards from scrimmage in a season is 2,215, which he achieved in 2014, and he touched the ball 406 times, rushes and receptions combined, in 2017. He doesn’t have specific numbers in mind, but he believes he can contribute even more to the Jets.

“Through this whole time,” Bell says, “I’m still thinking, the first five years in Pittsburgh, people ain’t really seen it yet. Because I still feel like while I was in Pittsburgh, they wasn’t trying to let me go crazy, like, really let me put my foot on the pedal. I feel like now I am in a better situation. I made that bet on myself—a team’s gonna want me, they’re gonna value me, they’re gonna want me to succeed, put me in the right situations to make the plays easier for me, not harder.”

He continues, “I know I can do more. That’s not anywhere close to being my potential or my ceiling. In Pittsburgh, we had a lot of weapons, a lot. So I feel like in Pittsburgh, people felt like everybody gotta get the ball or do this, that or the other. I don’t feel like I had a lot of opportunities like I could have.”

He wants to play at least five more years.

Bell, who turned 27 last month, has played five NFL seasons (2013-18). When asked how long he wants to keep playing, he replied, “’til I ain’t happy.” He then got more specific, saying after taking a year off of football for the first time since he was four years old, he thinks he can play beyond his four-year, $52.5 million contract with the Jets.

“I feel like I’m going to get to the point where I’m going to be able to get another contract,” Bell said. “That’s my goal. The way I’m feeling right now, I know I can play at least five more years, easily. That’s easy. And if I want to play after that, it’s going to be if I’m happy or not. But I could easily play five more years, I feel so good. This is literally the best I’ve ever felt. Maybe that’s why I’m happy, because I just feel good.”

Ryan Shazier’s injury affected his contract priorities.

Among the reasons Bell put a value on guaranteed money above all other contract measures, and didn’t want to play a second straight season on a one-year franchise tag (worth $14.5 million), was the risk of injury.

“Everybody’s worried about that one year for $14.5 million,” he says. “Let’s say I play that one year for $14.5 million. I don’t want to say something real negative but if I get hurt, [let’s say] I can’t play football no more. Yeah, I got 14.5, right? … but I can’t play no more. Or maybe I am not gonna get a long-term contract because I can’t pay no more. I saw one of my teammates get hurt and it’s up in the air about if he’s going to play. You’ve literally seen it. So, yeah, 14.5—I could have gotten that that first year, but I’m not worried about losing that. Because at the end of the day it’s the long game.”

Bell was watching from the sideline when Shazier suffered a serious spinal contusion while making a tackle. His injury required spinal stabilization surgery and he’s been sidelined since. “That’s football,” Bell said. “It can happen any given play. That’s my brother, too. You hate to see it happen, but it’s reality that (if) you play in this game of football, it can happen.”

Earl Thomas, too.

When Thomas broke his leg last year with Seattle, Bell commented on an Instagram post of a quote from Bobby Wagner discussing Thomas’s dilemma playing the 2018 season without a contract extension. Bell wrote that he would “continue to be the ‘bad guy’ for ALL of us.” (The veteran safety signed a four-year, $55 million contract with the Ravens when he became a free agent.)

“When I’m sitting out, you see guys who [are] playing and trying to earn long-term contracts, like Earl Thomas and things like that,” Bell says. “Alex Smith had just gotten paid, and he got hurt, but you see the difference because he had long-term security. He got guaranteed money. Even if you’re not the same player any more, if you never perform again, you still sustain, you are still good. You play that dangerous game, you put your body on the line, you may not be able to play with your kids, you are really taking that risk. But if you do, I want to be compensated for it.”

Bell continues: “You see Earl Thomas, and he’s like, I’m gonna just take the risk. I’m gonna go out there and just play. I know I want a long-term contract. Earl Thomas been the best safety in the game for a long time. And when he wants to get paid, he feels like he’s gotta go out there and play again. Like, I gotta prove myself again and get paid, and he’s been playing for eight, nine years, killing it. I don’t get it.”

He felt support from players around the league while sitting out.

Bell says he heard from players including Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara and Odell Beckham, Jr. He also heard from actor Omari Hardwick, who stars in the TV series, Power.

“As this was happening, they support me, they know what I am doing,” Bell says. “I never will understand why my teammates did what they did. I would think you would understand, but maybe not. But some people did, some people do understand. They’re looking at me like, I just did something good. … The fact that I’m standing for what I believe in, that I’m standing up to the big guys.”

His contract accounted for the fact that he sat out a year.

The Jets offer averaged slightly more than $13 million per season, though it included ways to meet the $15 million per-year average that Bell has long sought (although the escalators and incentives needed to get there include hard-to-reach criteria such as NFL MVP, Offensive Player of the Year and another 2,000-yard season). 

“I understand the base salary is $13.1 or whatever it is,” Bell says. “But there are incentives to where you have the ability to make $15 million. They met me in the middle. Yeah, we know you want $15 million a year. They know that’s what I ultimately wanted, but, you sat out football all year. So you gotta understand us—I’m talking as the Jets—you still gotta understand us, from our side, we gotta protect ourselves. We can’t put all this in there and you’re still not the same player. .... So if I go out there, I’m the same player, I go out there and do what Le’Veon Bell does, what they expect me to do, I can meet that. That’s something I can agree to. Easy deal.”

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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