Twenty-eight hours after free agency truly began, the New York Jets finally announced the signing of top free agent Le’Veon Bell.
On a conference call soon after the announcement, Bell told local reporters that he had no regrets with how he handled his contract situation in Pittsburgh, where he refused to sign the franchise tag and, following failed long-term contract negotiations, eventually sat out the entire 2018 season in hopes of securing more guaranteed money.
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"I don’t regret anything that happened," Bell said. "Obviously, everything happened for a reason. Who can say if I played last year if I do go out there and play on a one-year (deal) or franchise tag that I do get hurt, do I end up sitting here today being with the New York Jets? On the other side of it, if I go out there and do play on the franchise tag and I get another 400 carries, who’s to say that a team would pay me after 400 carries?"
It was a risk that Bell was worth taking, and a decision the Jets appreciate him making.
Gang Green signed one of the best running backs in football to a four-year deal worth $52.5 million with $25 million guaranteed, a relative steal considering what teams are paying average free agents this offseason. A more competitive market never materialized for Bell, who reportedly turned down a five-year, $70 million deal with $33 million guaranteed from Pittsburgh during the 2018 offseason.
At the end of the day, the new Jets running back sounded content with his landing spot.
"The Jets just kinda were the team that I kinda had in the back of my mind where I wanted to go," Bell told reporters. "So, you know, once the numbers made sense to me it wasn’t really a hard decision. I made a decision and I’m happy with the decision I made. Today I woke up, you know, feeling amazing. I’m happy where I’m at."
Bell insisted that, despite sitting out a year of football and reports that his weight had ballooned in recent weeks, he’s in the best shape of his life and will be ready to roll come football season.
"It’s the best my body’s really ever felt in my life," Bell declared. "There’s nothing that even comes close to comparing how I feel. Literally just resting and letting my body heal. … My body got so much rest, I’ve got so much built up in me, it’s time to let go. This is the best I’ve literally ever felt in my life — that I can remember."
Bell added: "My weight’s been where it’s needed to be. When I start playing football, I’ll be in football shape, but you can’t be in football shape until you’re actually playing football, wearing equipment and all that."
The new Jets back, who idolized Gang Green great Curtis Martin growing up, emphasized his excitement about working with Sam Darnold, being the young QB’s "security blanket" and "dictating coverages" in New York’s backfield.
"I know he has a lot of potential," Bell said of the 21-year-old Darnold. "I know he’s a young guy. I’m just looking forward to coming in and you know being a sorta security blanket, a guy he can rely on. Me and him will build our chemistry in the backfield, he can be a guy that I can rely on and vice versa. I think the more time I’m around him and the more practice and things we get together, the better our relationship will be. But I obviously think he has a high ceiling."
So do the Jets, who have splurged in the early days of free agency by signing Bell, ILB C.J. Mosley and WR Jamison Crowder and acquiring guard Kelechi Osemele.
Super Bowls, let alone divisions, aren’t won in March, but with Bell’s fresh legs in the building in Florham Park, the Jets are charting a flight path back to postseason contention.
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