Despite inking Le’Veon Bell to a marquee deal last offseason, the New York Jets may have to make some big decisions with their running backs.
New York Jets offseason positional preview: Part 2
The position on the position
This time last year, the New York Jets were weeks away from the monumental signing of Le’Veon Bell. The four-year, $52.5 million deal was polarizing. Some felt the addition was enough to turn the Jets into playoff contenders. Others thought Bell’s standoff nature, an attitude that sidelined him the entire 2018 season over a contract dispute, would spell disaster in New York.
Instead, Bell turned out to be one of more calming presciences on the Jets roster. He frequently made clear his desire to see this latest iteration of the eternal Jets rebuild through, even when results weren’t there.
Bell failed to surpass the century mark in any game this season, totaling just 789 rushing yards. His 3.2 yards-per-carry rate was also a career-low.
Despite Bell’s consistent declarations of being content, rumors swirled before, during, and after the 2019 campaign. First, speculation arose that head coach Adam Gase wasn’t willing to shell out such a big contract to him. Reports later stated that Bell was on the trading block after the Jets began the year 0-4.
One last round of Bell questions was raised as the Jets were packing their gear. General manager Joe Douglas praised the work that Bell did in his first season. Nonetheless, he mentioned he would “listen” to calls from enemy territory about Bell’s status.
Douglas recently expressed confidence that Bell would indeed return for the 2020 season.
Gaining clarity on the Bell situation should be one of the Jets’ most imperative and urgent tasks. New York has some decent depth in their free-agent pool, but with a young franchise quarterback headlining the offense, having a weapon like Bell could prove invaluable in taking the pressure off of said quarterback (provided he’s used properly).
Making sure all parties are on the same page will be imperative and could define the paths the Jets take in a crucial offseason. All-in-all, Bell seems satisfied in New York but it’s all for naught if management isn’t fully set on him.
Bilal Powell – Powell has been one of the more underrated stories in the league in recent memory. Selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, Powell is now the longest-tenured member of the Jets. It looked like his career was over at this point last season due to injury, but he came back and served as a decent spell option to Bell.
Ty Montgomery – Some felt Montgomery was poised for a breakout year after taking a decent amount of preseason carries when Bell stood on the sideline. Regardless, he failed to gain traction in the lineup, never carrying the ball more than nine times in a game.
Montgomery signed a one-year deal last offseason.
Will they draft?
It depends on the Bell situation. If he departs, it’s possible the Jets use one of their higher picks on an offensive skill player to assist Sam Darnold. But if Bell does indeed come back, the team would be far better off seeking depth amongst the veteran free agents.
Veteran names to watch
Kenyan Drake, Arizona – If Douglas receives an offer for Bell that he can’t refuse, Drake is perhaps the best name to take over. He has experience in a Gase-run system, having spent his first three seasons under his leadership in Miami. Drake picked up 2,120 scrimmage yards and 15 touchdowns in that span.
The rusher struggled after Gase’s firing, which led to Miami trading him to the Cardinals this past October. He would rack up 643 rushing yards and eight touchdowns over the second half of the season. This would dramatically increase his value heading into this movement.
If a Bell trade indeed goes down, Gase can soothe the blow by calling upon his former pupil.
Theo Riddick, Denver – Running backs who double as aerial threats can be major difference-makers in a league dominated by offensive heroics. Amongst rushers, Bell ranked seventh in the league in catches (66) and ninth in receiving yards (461). If the Jets are looking to add a similar threat, the tenured Riddick could be a hidden gem.
Riddick missed the entire 2019 season with a shoulder injury. Nevertheless, he’s caught 285 balls for 2,238 yards through 84 career games.
Adding to his Jets compatibility is the fact that current New York running back coach Jim Bob Cooter was his offensive coordinator in Detroit for four seasons.
Wendell Smallwood, Washington – One of Douglas’ first moves when he became the general manager was bringing Philadelphia transplant Josh Adams on to the practice squad. Adams would play sparingly in the latter stages of the season. Nonetheless, he was serviceable for a playoff squad in Philadelphia during his 2018 rookie campaign (511 yards and three touchdowns).
If Douglas seeks more rushing depth, he can turn to another former Eagle in Smallwood. He struggled to gain snaps this season while with the Redskins but developed a strong skillset in a reserve role with Philly. Smallwood picked up 594 yards from scrimmage in his final season as an Eagle (2018).
Maybe it’s a New York thing, but giving up on Bell after one year, especially one that the current general manager didn’t mold, would be unwise.
The real problem with rushing lies in front of the group. Curtis Martin himself would perhaps have trouble maintaining his career numbers behind an offensive line whose names flipped more than the departures board at Grand Central Station.
Rather than seek out a taker for Bell, the Jets should instead attempt to bolster their offensive line. They should also bring back the experienced Powell for depth. But whatever they choose to do with the former Steeler, they best do it sooner rather than later to properly commence their offseason proceedings.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490.