Le'Veon Bell, for the second time in 18 months, will be looking for a new home. On Tuesday night, the New York Jets released the two-time All-Pro running back after less than two seasons with the team. Bell signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Jets that included $27 million guaranteed during the 2019 offseason. Now, the former All-Pro running back will be subject to waivers, and if he is not claimed, he will be free to sign with another team.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas issued a statement on behalf of the organization via Twitter:
"After having conversations with Le'Veon and his agent and exposing potential trade options over the past couple of days, we have made the decision to release Le'Veon. The Jets organization appreciates Le'Veon's efforts during his time here and we know he worked hard to make significant contributions to this team. We believe this decision is in the best interests of both parties and wish him future success."
Shortly after the Jets broke the news, Bell offered his own response.
🙏🏾— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) October 14, 2020
"Got a lot to prove," Bell posted on Twitter Tuesday night. "I'm ready to go."
The Jets' decision to release Bell leaves behind $15 million of dead cap space for 2020 and $4 million in 2021, according to Spotrac. Any team who claims Bell on waivers will be on the hook for his remaining salary. So far, Bell earned just over $28 million of that contract. That total represents nearly two-thirds of Bell's career earnings after making just over $16 million during his time with the Steelers.
The writing appeared to be on the wall after Jets coach Adam Gase was recently forced to answer questions about Bell liking Twitter posts that were critical of Gase and Bell's lack of involvement in New York's offense. Bell's relationship with Gase has been an ongoing storyline since the Jets reportedly explored trading Bell before last year's deadline.
"Sometimes the defense takes away a guy that we're trying to give the ball to," said Gase. "I get it. Players get frustrated when they feel they should either be targeted more or get more touches. I think there's a lot of guys feeling that way. Just got to go back to work and figure out a way to get out guys involved.
"I hate that's the route we go with all this instead of just talking to me about it, but seems this is the way guys want to do it nowadays."
While he among the league's highest-paid running backs during his time with the Jets, Bell hardly played like one. In 17 games played, Bell never posted a 100-yard game or recorded a run longer than 19 yards. Bell's struggles could partly be related to the Jets' issues on the offensive line during his brief time in New York. It also seemed clear that Bell was not a fit for Gase's system, as Bell, known for his patience and versatility as a receiver, received just one target during this past Sunday's 30-10 loss to the Cardinals.
Bell, who spent his first five seasons with the Steelers, rushed for 863 yards and three touchdowns while averaging just 3.3 yards per carry with the Jets. He also caught 69 passes for 500 yards and one touchdown. Bell, who has missed three games due to injury this season, has just 22 touches for 113 all-purpose yards in two games.
A second-round pick in the 2013 draft, Bell enjoyed a solid rookie season in Pittsburgh that included breaking Franco Harris' 41-year old record for yards gained by a Steelers rookie. Bell enjoyed his breakout season in 2014, amassing 2,215 all-purpose yards while being named the Steelers MVP. In 2016, after missing most of the 2015 season due to a suspension and a torn MCL, Bell set franchise single-season and postseason single-game rushing records while leading the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game.
Despite holding out during the 2017 training camp, Bell still managed to earn All-Pro honors for a second time after amassing 1,944 all-purpose yards in 15 games. Bell, after he and the Steelers failed to come to terms on a long-term deal in 2018, elected to sit out the entire season after flirting with the idea of returning before the Week 11 deadline.
Bell appeared to find his happy ending in New York, where he became the second-highest paid running back in the NFL, trailing only Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott (he has since been passed by Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara). But despite receiving his coveted long-term contract, New York was ultimately not the right fit for Bell, who is now in search of his third team in three years.
Expect several teams to quickly pursue Bell if he ends up reaching the open market, and given the large chunk of guaranteed money still remaining on his contract with the Jets, it seems likely he will pass through waivers. Stay tuned for more details on this developing story.