As Le’Veon Bell burns another bridge, the New York Jets’ current rushing attack could become one of their most impactful areas.
For Le’Veon Bell, it appears to be three teams down and 29 to go.
The former New York Jets running back has apparently torched another bridge for himself when it comes to NFL employment, as Bell said he would “retire first” before playing another season with Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs. Bell’s declaration came, of all places, in an Instagram comment section, as fans bombarded him with questions on a post revealing someone spent over $700 at McDonald’s. Bell joined the eventual AFC champions mid-season after the Jets let him go after 17 games in green but was used sparingly (63 carries over nine games). He has since apologized for the arena in which he posted his comments, but reiterated his displeasure for his time in Kansas City.
The Bell experiment, one that cost the Jets over $52 million, came at a curious time on the NFL timeline, one that has placed an increased reliance upon aerial antics. Since 2010, only two top-ten rushers (Marshawn Lynch, LeGarrette Blount) have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. No leading rusher has triumphed since Terrell Davis in 1998. Thus, it was odd to see the Jets shell out so much for a dying art in the modern NFL, one that may have indirectly played a role in the recent offensive overhaul that ended the Sam Darnold era. With so much being dealt to Bell, other areas (i.e. receiving and blocking) were neglected.
Bell’s latest overpass arson allows his former employers to look back and realize just how much the situation behind the quarterback has improved. Interestingly, the Jets have gone for a more minimalist approach, adding two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman on a short deal worth $2 million, retaining a trio of young veteran projects in La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, Josh Adams, and a draft pick Michael Carter. Attention has centered on the Jets’ passing transactions, including a new quarterback (Zach Wilson) and several big-play threats (Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Keelan Cole). The Jets have also been renovating the offensive line, adding extra first-round choice Alijah Vera-Tucker to work next to Mehi Becton. New York also reportedly remains in the Morgan Moses conversation.
But despite the obvious upgrades in the passing game, this new approach when it comes to the rushers, one more conventional in the lens of the modern NFL, could be what truly awakens a dormant offense.
The relatively ignorance of the Jets run game is understandable in a sense: the Jets haven’t had a game-changing receiver since the magic of the Brandon Marshall/Eric Decker tandem during the star-crossed 2015 campaign. Robby Anderson nearly became that guy, but the Jets let him walk to Carolina with relatively little resistance. But trying to reverse fortunes fully through the passing game didn’t work out the last time around. It’s simply not fair to place the responsibilities of a metropolitan resurrection on players like Wilson and Moore. A strong run game in this year of development could help lighten that burden.
Even with legitimate improvements that truly make the Jets a better team…and not only because last year’s two-win campaign really couldn’t have made things much worse…asking the Jets to make the playoffs is going to be a tall task until on-field results prove otherwise. This season provides the perfect opportunity to experiment and work through any lingering issues they have before they plan to reintroduce themselves to professional relevancy. If they pull off an upset or two along the way, even if it’s as simple as topping the mediocre Patriots to end a ten-game losing streak against the Flying Elvises, call it an added bonus.
The developmental group of rushers can help them work toward the modest, yet attainable, goal.
Gold in a former 49er
Signing Coleman helps with the issues of youth and inexperience. The former Falcon and 49er has played an integral role in championship-contending squads and is a rare New York representative (though one of several veteran acquisitions) that brings playoff experience with him. Knee and shoulder ailments limited him to 87 total yards of offense over eight games last season in San Francisco. But, arriving on an affordable one-year deal and having proved serviceable in a lesser-heralded but nonetheless essential role, Coleman’s redemption story is one the Jets can afford to co-author (unlike that of Julio Jones).
New Jets head coach Robert Saleh knows about the impact Coleman can have on a team. One of his primary tasks in practice as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator was to find a way to stop Coleman, who spent the last two seasons in the Bay Area with Saleh. He believes Coleman personifies the “all gas, no brake” mantra
“His leadership, his on-the-field-demeanor, just all of it, his practice habits, he represents what we covet,” Saleh in a report from Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press. “When he gets the ball in his hand and he makes that one cut, it’s like he’s shot out of a cannon. He’s got tremendous speed, he’s got a tremendous mindset when the ball is in his hand, in terms of breaking tackles, falling forward, creating positive yardage.”
Though Coleman is by far the most accomplished name in the Jets’ current rushing room, it’s far from a guarantee that he’s going to be the primary ground option. The seventh-year veteran is faced with a goal of not only making an impact with his new employers but potentially extending his NFL career into his 30s.
“I’m a fast guy, I’m a strong guy, I’m big,” The 28-year-old said in Waszak’s report. “So I’ve definitely got a lot in my tank to prove myself.”
UNC You at the Top?
A lot of good vibes emerged from the Jets’ optional workouts earlier this month, if only because the sense of existential dread of the Adam Gase era has vanished along with the vanquished head coach. In fact, one can chalk any positive feeling the Jets have had since last holiday season on the Monkey’s Paw-style condition that last season was so unbearable that any offseason move would’ve felt like a step in the right direction.
One of the more subtle moves of that endeavor was the drafting of Michael Carter…namely the running back Michael Carter, though the Jets also have hopes for his fellow Michael Carter, this one being an untreated cornerback out of Duke.
The offensive Carter is a rusher from North Carolina, chosen in the early stages of the draft’s third day. Saturday at the draft is often a test of one’s football will, a day where you’re more likely to find Star Wars characters and orangutans than immediate starters. The Force, however, appears to be strong with Carter.
The former Tar Hell earned rave reviews during the voluntary portions of OTAs and instantly became a favorite target of fellow rookie Zach Wilson. A common theme in praise for Carter appears to be that he personifies the outside zone tendencies new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur would love to implement. It was one of the first things Carter noticed when the Jets made him the 107th overall pick of the draft earlier this spring.
“I think my change of direction and my stop-start ability, I think it compliments this system well,” Carter said in a report from DJ Bien-Aime of the New York Daily News. “I’ve been running pretty much wide zone since I was born. So it’s something that really comes naturally to me. We read a lot of it in college, even in high school I did, even in youth football I did. So I’m very familiar with it. I’m just excited to get in the system.”
The Jets have engaged in a de facto purge of the Gase era, one that has left little, if any, reminder of the former New York boss on its 2021 masthead.
Perine, Johnson, and Adams (the lattermost earning a new one-year deal for next season) are three of the rare leftovers from Gase’s cursed watch, namely the truly garish latter of his two campaigns. Conventional wisdom seemed to hint at a great opportunity for the group when Bell was let go, as the Jets’ instant removal from the playoff picture gave them plenty of opportunities to hold auditions for future roles. Gase, however, instead opted to give the 38-year-old Frank Gore a de facto retirement tour, almost writing his application to the 16,000-yard club for (Gore did reach that number, sitting third all-time behind Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton).
To the casual observer, Perine seems destined to become an unfortunate casualty, even if his status as a Jets seems defined by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time last season, he was in Carter’s position as a fourth-round pick that could make a difference but any hopes of impressing during the spring/summer practice traditions were undone by factors far beyond his or anyone remotely associated with football’s control: the COVID-19 pandemic. Perine himself carved out an opportunity (232 yards on 64 carries) but his season was plagued by both an ankle injury and placement on the COVID/reserve list.
Perine’s propensity for north/south style rushing as compared to speed and agility cherished by LaFleur has led some to label him the odd man out, ending his green career before it can truly get started. The return of preseason football should offer the Florida alum and 2019 Orange Bowl MVP an interesting, new opportunity as he embarks on one of the more intriguing battles of training camp.
Meanwhile, Johnson and Adams account for what passes as the closest thing the Jets have had to consistency in their run game since the underrated days of Chris Ivory. With Gore and Perine both missing a December tilt against Las Vegas, the pair provided the most lucrative rushing game the Jets had had in several seasons. It was forgotten in the wake of Gregg Williams’ doomed final blitz, but the two united for 178 yards. Johnson even reached triple digits, the first in New York since Isaiah Crowell’s one shining green moment in 2018.
Denied a full showcase by Gase’s Gore gambit last fall, Johnson and Adams face a bit of an uphill battle in carrying on their metropolitan careers. But the pair is mostly used to it, as they’ve built sizable tenures considering where they began. Johnson was drafted by Detroit in 2019’s sixth round but made the most of his limited opportunity by earning a 4.7 average on his 54 carries. Adams was undrafted out of Notre Dame but wound up joining current Jets general manager Joe Douglas’ former stomping ground in Philadelphia. He played his way into the Eagles’ roster when injuries ate at the veteran rushers. Competing in summer showdowns should be nothing new, but if they make it, they’ll provide an invaluable service to a long-sought hopeful chapter of the Jets’ perpetual rebuild.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags