Try as they might, the New York Jets couldn’t find a taker for Le’Veon Bell and announced Tuesday night they are releasing the veteran running back.
With the Chicago Bears running game stuck in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage the last two weeks, there has been ample speculation Bell would be worth a look at Halas Hall.
Bell, 28, officially will not become a free agent until after 3 p.m., so there is still time for the Jets to deal him, but any team trading for him would inherit a contract that pays him $500,000 per week.
The two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl running back was a free-agent disaster for the Jets (0-5), who in March 2019 signed him to a four-year, $52.5 million contract after Bell sat out the 2018 season because of a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He left $14.5 million on the table during that season, and the idea that time off would give the Jets a fresh and dangerous offensive weapon didn’t materialize.
In 17 games with the Jets, Bell carried 264 times for 863 yards (3.26 per attempt) and three touchdowns. He caught 69 passes for 500 yards and one touchdown and was regularly disgruntled. Bell got off to a slow start this season with a hamstring injury in Week 1 and was limited to 74 yards on 19 carries with three receptions.
“After having conversations with Le’Veon and his agent and exploring potential trade options over the past couple of days, we have made the decision to release Le’Veon,” Jets general manager Joe Douglas, the former college scouting director for the Bears, said in a statement. “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.”
Translation: If you have any interest in acquiring Bell, call now. Phone lines are open.
A trade is highly unlikely to materialize, so Bell soon will be a free agent. Some have linked him as an option for the Bears, but they already have a veteran in the building to kick the tires on.They signed Lamar Miller to the practice squad last week and will get a look at him beginning with practice Wednesday.
Miller missed last season with a torn ACL in his left knee and was briefly with the Patriots in August, starting on the physically unable to perform list before being released shortly after he was activated. The Bears have yet to see how Miller looks because they only held walk-throughs last week in preparation for the Thursday victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I’m excited he’s here,” said running backs coach Charles London, who coached Miller previously with the Houston Texans. “I’m really looking forward to seeing him run around out there (Wednesday), test the knee, get some confidence in it, and if Lamar’s healthy, he’s an explosive player.
“The last full season he played he was a Pro Bowl player. He’s a got a really diverse skill set in the run game, protection, the pass. I look forward to seeing him go out there and competing.”
The Bears have rushed for only 63 yards on 30 carries over the last two weeks against the Buccaneers (No. 1-ranked run defense) and Indianapolis Colts (No. 3). The offense ranks 29th with 23 rushing attempts per game, 27th with 95.4 rushing yards per game and 16th with 4.15 yards per carry. The running game, which appeared better through three games, is close to where it finished a year ago when the Bears ran for only 91.1 yards per game, which ranked 27th.
“It gets old always talking about the last two weeks … in regards to these two fronts that we played, but there is some realness to that,” coach Matt Nagy said. “When you go into these games it is our job personnel-wise to give your team the best matchup possible by personnel but also by what you are doing whether it’s run or pass. I have a lot of faith in our run game, and different ways how we are going to get back to it. I feel good about that. There is no panic at all. I know for me that part is exciting to figure out ways to get it back on track because that is ultimately going to help our offense.”
Bell was dominant for the Steelers, gaining 2,215 yards from scrimmage in 2014 1,884 yards in 2016 and 1,946 in 2017, scoring 31 touchdowns over those three years. His contract with the Jets is another cautionary tale for teams thinking about massive investments in running backs.
When playing well, Bell is a skilled receiver out of the backfield and more productive than Miller as a pass catcher. But Bell’s prime days were a long time ago, and given his history of being unhappy, the Bears surely would wonder if he would be comfortable in a role replacing Tarik Cohen and playing behind David Montgomery.
Bell can’t bring with him the linemen he ran behind in Pittsburgh, and if the Bears don’t see him being much better for them than he was for the Jets, they would hope to get that production from Miller, undrafted rookie Artavis Pierce or the backs currently carrying the load.
Before the Bears give any thought to Bell, they have to see if Miller can help.
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