Le'Veon Bell Jamal Adams Sam Darnold
ESNY Graphic

Reportedly the newest member of the New York Jets, Le’Veon Bell, is a risk. But the suddenly savvy Jets are ready to meet the challenge.

Geoff Magliocchetti

Finding an NFL superstar completely free of baggage is akin to finding a unicorn; you can believe in the concept all you want, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to find it.

The NFL is a league that defines the concept of reward outweighing the risk. Attached baggage to those who help you capture an elusive Super Bowl title can come in many forms. Sometimes, it’s a legal issue, seen most recently through Kareem Hunt. Attitude problems seem to be a common trope these days. On-field baggage is also present, as the Jets discovered with Sam Darnold‘s turnover propensity.

Other metaphorical weights are downright bizarre, like Tom Brady‘s Deflategate connection.

The New York Jets are in a position where they can’t take on much more. They’re a squad desperate to return to relevancy and need as little distraction as possible. They rightfully passed on Hunt and avoided temptation via Antonio Brown.

Their signing of Le’Veon Bell, he of a completely lost season through his own doing, is risky. But the former Pittsburgh Steeler a balance, a happy medium, of potential that the Jets sorely need in a new era.

One of the NFL’s most dynamic running backs, Bell will probably be best known for his absence until further notice. Stripping away a second straight franchise tag, Bell left a sizable payday on the table to watch the Steelers sink further down the standings and into a reality-show-style cesspool of melodramatics.

The Jets, armed with cap space and a long-running rushing problem, were listed as one of the contenders for Bell long before the 2018 season played his final down. Signed during the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Bell is expected to be a spark to a dormant Jets offense that has finally found a guy they’re confident could last until at least the next presidential election.

He can’t do it all on his own, however, and Bell provides the first legitimately elite veteran offensive talent since Brandon Marshall departed for a brief defect in New York blue. Rushing help has been at a bigger premium, as the Jets haven’t boasted 1,000-yard rusher since Chris Ivory‘s tally of 1,070 in 2015. In perhaps no coincidence, that’s also the last time the Jets earned a winning season.

It was a move the Jets were right to pounce on, even if Bell’s 2018 protest will define his career until further notice.

Negotiations with Bell were swift. It was a process that easily could’ve blown up in the Jets’ face. The Jets were active from the moment legal tampering was permitted, welcoming in a slot option in Jamison Crowder. Inklings of the “same old Jets” meme, however, surfaced in time. Incoming linebacker Anthony Barr, expected to help the pass rush, got cold feet and went back to Minnesota.

An attempt to woo Bell possibly distracted the Jets from the Matt Paradis sweepstakes, as the Carolina Panthers pounced on the coveted center. The Jets were dangerously on the verge of entering a free agency supermarket with a loaded wallet to wind up “just looking”.

The Bell move changed everything.

New York momentum is squarely in the Jets’ corner. In the span of hours, the Jets went from also-rans to dipping their toes in the AFC playoff discussion. The energizer is the affordable Bell contract, one that was met with was met with unanimous praise from the team’s defensive president, Jamal Adams.

There’s hope. There’s hype. Most importantly, the Jets aren’t done.

In a way, the Bell contract is affordable because of Bell’s personal failure. Set to make just over $13 million in New York, a franchise tag could’ve made him $14.5 million richer with the Steelers last season. Brown’s gambit earned him a raise in Oakland, but Bell now makes less upon leaving. If it leads to more victories and a successful return, this will probably be the last you hear of it.

The pay decrease allows the Jets further attempts to accommodate that goal.

Even before Bell’s signing, the Jets dedicated $17 million a year to a new defensive prescience, as CJ Mosley has been brought in on a five-year deal. The Bell discount also serves as an assurance to the fans that the Jets aren’t done yet when it comes to adding new veterans.

Josh Sitton, for example, would serve as an experienced prescience on the line, one that would have familiarity with an Adam Gase/Dowell Loggains offense thanks to a Miami tenure. The Jets can also have more freedom to negotiate with their own free agents. Sandwiching Bell’s signing were new deals for defensive end Henry Anderson and cornerback Darryl Roberts.

Again, few name brands in today’s NFL are truly “innocent” in the eyes of prognosticators. Even newcomers to the league are relentlessly scrutinized, as the term “red flag” has become synonymous with the NFL Draft process. Bell’s antics could serve as a distraction. After all, the 2018 absentee accompanied his New York decision with a rap mixtape. But he’s a happy medium that the Jets can deal with.

With negotiations complete, the hard part is out of the way. Bell is locked up with the Jets, and he will become one of the most crucial names moving forward. Every offensive move the Jets make from here on out will be made in the best interest of Darnold.

You could certainly do far worse than the explosive Bell, the most affordable, and perhaps most necessary, risk in recent Jets memory.

Follow Geoff Magliocchetti on TWITTER