The New York Jets are reportedly willing to wheel and deal to try and make their lowly offense work, but one trade could involve shipping off star running back Le’Veon Bell.
Bell joined the Jets on a four-year, $52.5 million contract ahead of the 2019 season. He was coming off back-to-back 1,000-plus yard seasons in 2016-17 and sat out all of 2018 over a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers. When Bell came to New York, he was playing with an unestablished quarterback, Sam Darnold, who was in need of a big sophomore campaign and new head coach, Adam Gase. Bell also came to New York behind a recently grotesque offensive line; the Jets ranked dead last in 2018, according to Football Outsiders, and finished 2019 second to last. It showed in Bell’s production or lack thereof. New York was dead last in 2019’s offensive rankings. The Jets averaged just 273 yards per game last season for their lowest output in the last decade dating back to 2009.
The two-time All-Pro back averaged a career-low 3.2 yards per carry; it was even worse than his rookie total (3.5) with two fewer games played. The production New York hoped for from Bell wasn’t there, and while he isn’t the same player he was in 2017, when he led the league in carries (321) and topped out at 1,291 yards, he is still in great shape and can be productive out of the backfield with the right infrastructure and support around him. The Jets, however, might not see it that way and there are rumors they could trade Bell before the deadline, Oct. 29, if they aren’t in contention, according to ESPN’s Rich Cimini.
New York was rumored to deal Bell last season and Gase hasn’t been all-in on Bell after a dip in production. The Jets will need to find the right suitor and have their asking price met, which could start with an early-round draft pick. Should New York send Bell elsewhere, here are three of the top team fits.
Bell’s patient run style needs a better offensive line, and it starts here with the Bills. The Bills went through a needed overhaul up front following the 2018 season and saw an improvement in pass protection for then-second-year passer Josh Allen. Pro Football Focus ranked Buffalo No. 10, citing the well-built supporting cast.
Buffalo made the move to acquire wide receiver Stefon Diggs as an added target for Allen. Now, it can add to its backfield with Bell. The Bills have already begun building their running back room. They drafted Devin Singletary in the third round of the 2019 draft and Zack Moss again in the third round of this year’s draft. Singletary, who is coming off a 775-yard rookie campaign, will be Buffalo’s starter in 2020 with Moss as its RB2. Buffalo also has T.J. Yeldon and Taiwan Jones for added depth but could use a storied receiver like Bell. With Tom Brady now out of the AFC East, the Bills should continue adding to the talent around Allen and make another playoff push. Bell would certainly help those efforts.
The Lions need all the help they can get while coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn are on their respective hot seats. Detroit is coming off its second consecutive losing season and third straight without a playoff appearance. They managed to put up just three wins in 2019.
While the Lions’ struggles extend beyond their running back room, adding Bell would help their chances to, at least, return to the postseason. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is now healthy, which will help the passing game tremendously. With no true frontrunner in the NFC North, Detroit can help improve its offense by adding an experienced back like Bell. The Lions have Kerryon Johnson, who is entering his third year but has yet to play a full NFL season, and just selected D'Andre Swift in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. If Patricia wants to continue his committee approach, Bell’s experience and production would be more than helpful.
New England Patriots
The Patriots are already going through an offensive makeover. They now have Cam Newton to pair with and/or take the starting job from Jarrett Stidham while reimagining an offense without Brady as its star. One way for New England to do that would be to bolster its running back room.
The Patriots already have Sony Michel and James White; they also just restructured the final year of Rex Burkhead’s contract, ESPN’s Field Yates reported Tuesday. While Burkhead joins a deep backfield, which also features Damien Harris and Brandon Bolden, he’s aging and is obviously no Bell. The Patriots are still waiting for Michel’s breakout season, which could happen in Year 3; White has been consistent but not great; Harris is entering his sophomore season still unproven, and Bolden is a veteran option but hasn’t had any meaningful production since his early years in New England.
If the Patriots go all-in on Newton, which they should because even at 20% production, he’d still be better than Stidham, then adding Bell would be welcome. Newton is used to working with an uber-productive back from his time in Carolina with Christian McCaffrey. The Patriots could see the reemergence of two stars, Newton and Bell, as they create their new identity.