In New York, Jets running back Le’Veon Bell finally finds NFL freedom after a long plight featuring extraordinary challenges.
It matters not that he sat out an entire season. It matters little that the pundits clock him in at a hefty 270 pounds. It matters not at all that he takes to hip-hop during the leisure hours that consist of his football life.
On Thursday, after his first official practice in Gotham Green, Bell’s NFL freedom showcased itself with ease.
“Man, I couldn’t wait,” Bell proclaimed in reference to getting back on the field. “I’ve just been itching … for a year. Just to get back out here and take a step … and [eventually] put pads on, things like that, I’m going to take each and every day, one day at a time, and then, go from there. … but I feel good.”
Bell, 27, has been living under what equates to football prison for the better part of the last year. Arguably the best back in the league took a business stand.
He rejected a Pittsburgh Steelers offer that would have paid out nearly $14 million a season. The reported offer highlighted a $70 million total over five years. Bell and his camp rejected it. Instead of locking up a long-term deal last summer, just ahead of the deadline to sign franchise-tagged players, he confidently strutted into the NFL financial unknown.
Zero rushing yards, zero catches, and zero snaps followed. The man sat out an entire season, forfeiting a mega-weekly paycheck. His four-year, $52.5 million deal with the Jets allowed him to escape the football prison his business decisions created.
The enlightening aspect of it all revolves around Bell’s business savvy. It’s always about the guaranteed money in the league that plays for pay.
Pittsburgh’s deal offered up a hilariously-low guaranteed money section. Just $10 million to the best back in the league. The contract laid out plans that would have guaranteed Bell $33 million over the first two seasons and $45 over three, but nothing about it was 100 percent in the bank.
New York’s, on the other hand, provides the hip-hop back with a cool $35 million no matter what happens.
“I don’t want sign a long-term deal and everybody says I signed for $70 million but only the first year is guaranteed,” Bell said on NFL Network back in February 2018. “So the first $17 million that you make in that year that’s the only year that’s guaranteed … ”
While a great portion of the league laughed and chuckled at the perceived bonehead decision, No. 26 continued to go about his business with conviction.
It worked, and now he’s free to juke tacklers, truck-stick defenders and orchestrate his famous cat-and-mouse games with second-level defenders while making most look completely foolish. Oh yeah, he’ll also be conducting his business in the greatest media market in the world.
It’s only now, after his negotiation business is in the rear-view mirror, he can officially prove so many folks wrong.
“I expect to be better,” Bell said in response to returning to his dominant 2017 form that saw him collect 1,291 yards on the ground and another 655 through the air on 85 total grabs.
“I don’t wanna just say I’m gonna be how I was two years ago. After a year off, you know, I wanna be a better player. I feel like I’m confident, I’m ready … I’m just ready to go out there and perform.
Oh, and the man is all-in. There’s no holding back in 2019.
“I’m up to 500 touches. Whatever I can do to help this team win, I’m up for,” Bell proudly announced.
Routinely hammered for his decisions, suspensions and off-the-field actions, Bell has no problem projecting exactly who he is. Similarly to missing an entire season, no fear accompanies his personality.
“I’m going to be myself. [Jets fans] are getting a player who’s gonna work his tail off, work as hard as he can, and push others to work as hard as they can.
“Oh, I’m a guy who goes out there, who’s fun … I just like having fun, doing me, play video games, playing basketball, rap.”
Bell’s personality further revealed itself when he answered with an “undisclosed” to a question pertaining to his reported weight at camp.
Bell’s first meet-and-greet with the media enticed the senses. Loose, focused and somewhat uninhibited can aptly describe the man’s mindset at the moment. His personality shines through an oftentimes tough situation featuring ridiculous questions.
After such a tumultuous prior year for the man, it’s exactly the showcase fans love to witness.
The man has officially escaped NFL jail. He’s free of negotiations, legitimate controversy and decisions that jeopardize separating him from the game he loves.
Everything about Le’Veon Bell suggests he’s found true football freedom. If only the New York Jets can escape their own playoff demons.
Don’t worry; the newly-free man is already working hard on the case.