New York Jets: Should they splurge on Le’Veon Bell?

The Jets will enter this offseason armed with the 3rd overall pick in the upcoming draft, along with potentially over $100 million in cap space. As it stands now, the New York is looking at $93.7 million of room when accounting for the money they will have to pay for their draft pool. They can create another $11 million in space simply by cutting Kelvin Beachum and Isaiah Crowell. Should they use that money to splurge on free agent running back Le’Veon Bell?

Make no mistake about it – the New York Jets have a front row seat in free agency. They’re also in possession of the NFL’s modern-day cheat code: A quarterback on a rookie contract. Each of the last two NFC Super Bowl representatives had a quarterback on a rookie scale deal. The Rams went all in during the 2018 offseason for a Super Bowl run. The Eagles loaded up the entire roster around Wentz prior to the 2017 season (including a good backup quarterback). A large reason for the early success of the Seahawks was Russell Wilson’s comically low salary for a starting quarterback. Dallas appears to have gotten the message that with a young quarterback comes the opportunity to stack out the rest of the roster.

Not only are the Jets paying Darnold relatively nothing based on the market place for a veteran starting quarterback, but New York’s biggest need this offseason is to surround Darnold with more weapons and protection. The Jet’s offense ranked 29th in DVOA this past season. Worse, the team’s rushing offense came in 30th in by DVOA.

Bell likely wants Gurley money considering he was willing to sit out an entire season. New York has the cap space and the need, so is this a match made in heaven?

What Le’Veon Bell Brings

Bell has been one of the best backs in football since he first broke out in 2014. From 2014-2017 Bell was in the top 5 running backs by DYAR every season. His unique patient running style makes him lethal as a lead back.

But his true value comes as a receiver. Not only is he an elite receiving back, but running backs impact winning more so from their contributions in the passing game than as runners. This makes perfect sense, considering that rushing barely even matters:

“{R}ush efficiency explains only 4.4% of the variance in wins… Pass efficiency explains 62% of the variance in wins in the NFL.”

ProFootballFocus ran a study and found that the four running back measurements that best predict team wins in the following year are PFF pass-blocking grade, pass blocking efficiency, yards per receiving route run, and PFF receiving grade. Running backs help their teams win based on what they do in the passing game.

In 2014, 2016, and 2017, Bell ranked 1st, 11th, and 11th in receiving DYAR among running backs that caught a minimum of 25 passes. From 2014-2017, Bell lead all running backs in receiving yards with 2,261 over that time span. The next closest was 1,828 yards. Bell also missed 13 games during that stretch. Additionally, he led all running backs in receptions and was 7th in receiving touchdowns during those four years.

The Cheat Code

If any team is in position to throw $15 million a year at Bell, it is the Jets. They have the cap space and a massive need to surround Darnold with as much talent as possible. Bringing in a back with the receiving skills of Bell will do wonders for Darnold’s development.

The timing also lines up perfectly. Darnold has four years left on his rookie scale deal before New York has to pay him market value. 2019 will mark Bell’s age 27 season. There is a good chance whatever contract Bell receives in free agency will be a four-year deal. Just as the Jets will need more cap space to give Darnold a raise, Bell will be coming off the books. Worst case scenario, New York gives Bell a five year deal with $0 guaranteed in the fifth season.

If the Jets give Bell the exact deal Gurley received, his average annual salary would be $14.38 million. Using the $93.7 million in cap room figure from before, New York would still have $79.32 million to work with in free agency. If the team does cut Beachum and Crowell, they’re looking at $90.32 million in cap room after signing Bell.

While running back is the position to search for cheap labor, it makes sense for the Jets to be the team to splurge for Bell.