With 2020 around the corner, the New York Jets have officially reached the decade mark since they have been a playoff team. The last time the Jets made the playoffs, clinching back-to-back years first in 2009 and then in 2010, was when Mark Sanchez was at the helm during his first two seasons in the NFL. Flash forward to the present, Mark Sanchez’s legacy has been buried in dust after the Jets year after year, failed to make the playoffs as well as develop a level of consistency and growth with their rebuilding process.
Despite another losing season with a current 6-9 record, the Jets, for the first time in a while, have a handful of cornerstone players that they need to hold onto and use as their foundation to build around. This includes star running back Le’Veon Bell, who not only was a part of the trade deadline rumors circulating around October but has yet again, been brought back on the discussion table as a potential trading piece for the Jets this offseason.
To keep it clear and straightforward, the Jets should not deal away Le’Veon Bell this offseason. Trading away Bell is a rash and hasty decision that would deal a crippling blow to an offense that has struggled to build a strong, successful system and chemistry due to fluctuating roster circumstances all year long.
Earlier this year in March, Bell signed a 4-year $52.5 million-dollar contract to join the New York Jets. This contract was a large investment, and essentially, the Jets granted their new star running back a hefty sum of money with the hopes of using him as a building block to reach their goal in four years. But that also means giving your running back more than just one season to fulfill that promise, and in addition, recognizing that he’s not the problem.
To paint a better picture, let’s review some history. Bell came off back-to-back seasons in 2016 and 2017, where he posted over 1,200 yards rushing accompanied with 7+ rushing touchdowns (ESPN). But what’s even more impressive is that Bell completed these historic feats without playing all 16 games in both seasons; in 2016, he only played 12 games (ESPN). Furthermore, outside of his rookie season and his first year with the Jets, Le’Veon managed to run an average of 4+ yards per carry for four consecutive seasons with the Steelers (ESPN). And the most significant factor as to why Bell hasn’t been able even to reach 1,000 yards rushing on 200+ carries this year, is because of his current offensive line.
To give you an idea of how special that Steelers O-Line was to Le’Veon, look at how well James Connor played in his absence last season; he had a breakout year where he rushed for over 900 yards along with 12 touchdowns (ESPN). The Steelers have a grade A offensive line anchored by guys like Maurkice Pouncey, Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, and David DeCastro, who’ve been working together for over five years (ESPN). The Jets don’t have anything close to this kind of offensive line, and that issue has been magnified through Le’Veon’s performance this season.
What the New York Jets need to realize is that Bell is one of the most athletic and complete backs in the league and remains to be at the young age of 27 years-old. And as Head Coach Adam Gase expressed last Friday during a press conference before facing the Steelers, Bell brings so much to the table, particularly with his insight and commitment.
“He’s been great, in the aspect of whatever he needs to do to help the team win a game. Whatever we’ve asked him to do, he’s just done it. He has had some good suggestions throughout the season to try to get the ball rolling. In game, he’s really good. He has really good thoughts and he sees so much, and he really gives you a good thought scope during a game.”
By having him as your starting running back and a promising Sam Darnold locked in as the starting quarterback, the biggest priority for the Jets next season has to be putting together an elite offensive line, beginning with the draft and continuing with free-agent signings in the offseason. The power of an elite offensive line not only provides better running lanes for Bell to take advantage of but in addition, would create a better pocket for Darnold to maximize his passing role and play-action success.
If the Jets want to be serious about progressing from yet another rough season, they need to structure their offense around Bell and provide him the opportunity to succeed. That solution begins with the offensive line, but above all else, it does not include trading away Le’Veon Bell.