The Jets are set to sign former Steelers star Le'Veon Bell to a four-year, $52.5 million contract, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, via a source informed of the situation. The 27-year-old dual-purpose back tried to lure other suitors to the table, Rapoport added, but the Jets had the best offer from the onset of negotiations.
Now that Bell has signed, other free-agent backs such as Mark Ingram and Tevin Coleman should fall in line with new deals of their own. In fact, Rapoport disclosed that the Ravens bowed out of Bell discussions early Tuesday to ramp up their pursuit of Ingram. The 49ers and Raiders also showed various levels of interest in Bell, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
Bell released a mixtape at midnight ET Wednesday morning, leading many observers to believe he would blaze a new free agency trail by announcing his new team in the lyrics. Instead, word of his choice leaked through sources, with Bell alluding to the Jets' colors shortly thereafter.
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Bell opted to sit out the entire 2018 season after becoming the first running back to draw back-to-back franchise tags since the free agency system was implemented in 1993. Viewing himself as a No. 2 receiver as well as a No. 1 tailback, Bell was seeking more than $17 million annually last year. He ended up forfeiting the $14.5 million he would have earned by signing Pittsburgh's franchise tender.
The Steelers' final long-term offer to Bell, Rapoport reported last summer, contained $70 million over five years with $30 million available in the first two seasons of the deal. Under terms of the new pact with the Jets, he will earn $13 million annually, failing to eclipse the market-setting contract signed by the Rams' Todd Gurley last offseason.
Bell's camp would note that he did save a year's worth of tread on his tires after leading the league in touches (406) and rush attempts (321) in 2017.
Among running backs who have missed an entire year, per NFL Research, former Ravens power back Jamal Lewis recorded the most yards from scrimmage (1,769) in the following season. While Bell averaged 2,015 yards from scrimmage in his last three healthy seasons with the Steelers, he will encounter the added hurdle of attempting to top Lewis' production while adjusting to a new offense.
The most well-rounded back of the past half-decade, Bell has essentially created his own running style, displaying extraordinary patience and uncanny synchronicity with Pittsburgh's stalwart blockers. Even if it takes time to gel with an unfamiliar and unproven offensive line, he offers as much game-changing potential as any available free agent this offseason.
Since entering the league as a second-round draft pick in 2013, Bell ranks first among running backs in touches (24.9), rushing yards (86.1), receiving yards (42.9) and yards from scrimmage (129.0) per game. He's earned first- or second-team All-Pro nods in three of the past four seasons in which he's participated.