Le’Veon Bell and the Jets: A timeline of two doomed seasons in New York, from big contract to release

Le’Veon Bell tweeted Tuesday night that he’s “got a lot to prove.” That proving won’t happen with the Jets after Bell’s release just a year and a half into a big-money contract.

Only hours after reports emerged that the Jets were looking to trade Bell, he was cut. It ended a drama-filled year and a half with the Jets that included plenty of unhappy Adam Gase and even a bowling outing while sick. What that year and a half didn’t include was tons of production on the field after Bell had been a star with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This is a look at how Bell went from one of the most expensive RB contracts in the league to a player released less than halfway through his big deal.

Le’Veon Bell Jets timeline

2018: Bell holds out from the Steelers

Bell might never have ended up with the Jets if his relationship with Pittsburgh didn’t sour. Bell already held out in 2017 before deciding to play out the season under the franchise tag. He made it clear he didn’t want to be franchised again in 2018, but that’s what the Steelers did.

Instead of signing his franchise tender, Bell just never showed up. The Steelers moved on from Bell, and he became a free agent hoping to find the highest bidder.

March 12, 2019: Bell signs 4-year, $52.5 million deal with Jets

While there were some doubts about Bell getting a big-money deal in a league where running backs had become a dime a dozen, the Jets shelled out more than $50 million (and $35 million guaranteed) to sign Bell.

The Jets were looking to bolster what had been a terrible running back situation the year before. Isaiah Crowell led the Jets in 2018 rushing yards, while Bilal Powell served as the change-of-pace option. If Bell could carry over the ability he’d shown early in his career in Pittsburgh, the Jets would be getting a running back who could do it all.

May 2019: Adam Gase didn’t want to sign Bell

Multiple reports indicated that Adam Gase, who’d taken over as Jets head coach in Jan. 2019, didn’t want to sign Bell. It wasn’t about Bell, per se. Rather, Gase didn’t want to spend that kind of money on any running back. 

Before Bell’s release, the average annual value of his contract ranked fifth in the NFL behind four younger running backs who’d all signed deals since Bell signed his: Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook.

DeCOURCY: Le’Veon Bell got lots of money from Jets for little work, but still sold himself short

Sept. 8, 2019: Bell makes Jets debut

Bell made his Jets debut in a one-point loss to the Buffalo Bills. He ran 17 times for 60 yards and caught 6 of 9 targets for 32 yards and a touchdown. He also scored a 2-point conversion. It was one of Bell’s better games as a Jet.

Being the focal point of a poor offense didn’t go well for Bell in 2019. He averaged 3.22 yards per carry and 7.0 yards per catch, which were both about a yard below his career averages. Defenses could key on Bell, who rarely got very far before a first defender hit him. Overall, he ran for 789 yards and three touchdowns while receiving another 461 yards and a score.

Dec. 2019: Bell goes bowling while sick

Bell missed the Jets’ Week 15 game due to what was termed an “illness.” But instead of just sitting at home and resting up, Bell was spotted out bowling. It didn’t go over well with Gase, as you’d expect.

“I’d rather him not be (bowling),” Gase said. “I’d rather him be at home, getting better. But that will be a conversation we have.”

2020 offseason: Jets sign Frank Gore, draft La’Mical Perine

Of course teams need more than one running back on their roster, but the Jets didn’t show huge faith in Bell with the moves they made in the 2020 offseason. They signed Frank Gore, who has proven late in his career capable of carrying a heavy load on bad teams. Then they drafted La’Mical Perine out of Florida in the fourth round, a potential running back of the future.

Bell still entered the 2020 season at No. 1 on the depth chart, but unlike the year prior, it felt like the Jets had alternatives.

Aug. 2020: Gase pulls Bell from practice for bad hamstrings, which Bell refutes

During training camp, Gase pulled Bell from practice and told the media it was because Bell was dealing with bad hamstrings. Bell refuted that report, saying his hamstrings were fine. 

Gase said the two eventually met and hashed out their issues, but it was an odd miscommunication between head coach and starting running back.

Sept. 15, 2020: Bell placed on IR with hamstring injury

Bell lasted one week before he had hamstring issues for real. He ran six times for 14 yards in Week 1 while also catching two passes before he exited the game. Bell was placed on Injured Reserve a couple days later.

In 2020, placement on IR meant Bell would be forced to miss at least three weeks. Reports emerged partway through Bell’s time out that he’d likely return when eligible in Week 5.

Oct. 11, 2020: Bell activated, plays against Cardinals

Bell did make it back in Week 5 and played as the Jets hosted the Cardinals. He carried 13 times for 60 yards and caught one pass for seven yards. The Jets were handled easily by the Cardinals in a 30-10 Arizona victory.

Oct. 12, 2020: Bell likes tweets about his lack of usage

Following the loss to the Cardinals, Bell was active with his like button on Twitter.

Bell liked three separate tweets critiquing his limited usage. Two involved the one target Bell received in the passing game, while the third said that Bell’s usage was “inexcusable.” Bell went on to like two tweets that suggested the Jets should trade him.

Gase later said he was irked by Bell’s social media activity.

“I hate that’s the route we go with all this instead of just talking to me about it,” he said, “but seems this is the way guys want to do it nowadays.”

Oct. 13, 2020: Reports emerge of Jets shopping Bell

Multiple reports emerged on the Tuesday following the Arizona game that the Jets were shopping Bell to other teams. The indication was that the Jets would settle for a late-round pick about a year and a half after they signed Bell to a big-money deal.

Oct. 13, 2020: Jets release Bell

Apparently there were no takers, because the Jets released Bell the same night reports emerged that they were shopping him. Bell, as a vested veteran, would be eligible to sign with a new team at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 14.

For his part, Bell didn’t seem too bothered by the release in two tweets he sent out Wednesday night.

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