Le’Veon Bell may not be on the trading block, but the future of the running back with the New York Jets is far from settled.
On Tuesday, Jets general manager Joe Douglas addressed the issue of Bell, a curious case study on the inconsistencies of the team’s 7-9 season. At times, Bell flashed and showed his ability to churn out tough yards and also be a playmaker as a receiver out of the backfield. But behind an inconsistent offensive line, Bell understandably struggled.
His 789 rushing yards on the year were the lowest of his career since 2015. He had just three rushing touchdowns.
And his 3.2 yards per carry were the worst of his career.
Considering that Bell was signed by Douglas’ predecessor as general manager, Mike Maccagnan, the organizational ties to the Pro Bowl running back are certainly limited. At the end of the day, Bell could be trade bait if the Jets don’t prioritize a high-end running back in their offense or are looking to clear more cap space.
Several weeks ago, a report said that the Jets would enter the offseason looking to trade Bell. On Monday, head coach Adam Gase deferred to Douglas’ availability on Tuesday when asked about Bell’s future with the Jets.
So On Tuesday, Douglas fielded several questions about Bell being with the Jets in 2020. In particular, if the Jets would be open to a trade.
“Like I said before, if teams do call, I'm going to listen,” Douglas said on Tuesday at the team’s facility.
“How those conversations go, I can't speak to that, that's hypothetical. But, when teams call, I will listen.”
Last offseason as a free agent, Bell signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the Jets.
It all makes for an interesting scenario for the Jets and certainly Bell. The Jets don’t have a tremendous amount of depth at the running back position and could certainly use a playmaker at the spot. But the investment in Bell undoubtedly demands a return higher than seen this year, an indictment on the running back softened by the fact that the Jets offensive line certainly did not aid in his production or lack thereof this year.
Douglas was asked on Tuesday if he wanted Bell back next year. As he did with Jamal Adams when asked about a contraction extension for his Pro Bowl safety, Douglas talked about the positive virtues of the player.
In the case of Adams, the team’s unquestioned best player (and only Pro Bowl selection), and in Bell, Douglas refused to touch on the future.
“So, my personal experience with Le'Veon has been very positive. He's done everything we've asked him to do as a person, as a teammate,” Douglas said.
“I touched on it last time I talked to you guys, he's one of our best workers, he's one of our best teammates, he connects and engages with everybody. So, I can't say enough positive things about Le'Veon.”
The offensive line is a priority this offseason for the New York Jets, a unit that had been neglected the past three years and as such, has performed that way.
The Jets had the second worst offensive line in the NFL according to the Adjusted Sack Rate analytic. Injuries, which decimated the line throughout the year, contributed to a unit that was already weak across the two-deep and lacking high-end talent. The line played about as well as expected, especially in the early parts of the year. To their credit, the offensive line came together during the second half of the season, a stretch when the Jets finished out the year 6-2. But changes and upgrades must be made.
The line and their struggles was a major reason why the offense struggled in the first half of the year and why the Jets rushing offense never really got going in 2019. It is also a reason why quarterback Sam Darnold regressed the early part of the year as he was constantly throwing under duress.
All of which makes the revamping of the offensive line a major priority for general manager Joe Douglas this offseason.
“Obviously, like the rest of our team, it didn’t start out ideal, our offensive line. I think I saw a stat that we had nine different o-line combinations so that’s more than half the season we had a different starting line up with the offensive line, so a real testament to those guys sticking together,” Douglas told reporters at the team’s facility on Tuesday.
“I really feel that those guys, like a lot of our team, they were able to stick together, they grew within the offense, there’s a reason they say, 'growing pains' not, 'growing joys' and this team grew. I think you saw it down the back stretch where we were able to protect Sam, we did a great job picking up stunts, we did a great job picking up blitzes. Moving forward, the line of scrimmage is always going to be a priority here and so it’s definitely going to be something that we’re going to look to improve every year.”
This offseason is the first full one under Douglas, who was hired after the NFL Draft to replace Mike Maccagnan. The Jets have a decent amount of salary cap space with which to make moves and additions.
Currently, the Jets head into the offseason with $67.49 million in space under the salary cap. The Jets also hold the No. 11 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, giving them another way to address the dire needs along the offensive line.