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NY Jets: Was the Le’Veon Bell contract ultimately worth it?

NY Jets, Le'Veon Bell (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
NY Jets, Le'Veon Bell (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
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Did the NY Jets make the right decision giving Le’Veon Bell a four-year, $52.5 million contract?

The 2019 free agency was hit with a splash when Le’Veon Bell signed a four-year, $52.5 million deal with the NY Jets. It made him, at the time, the highest-paid running back in the NFL.

His average annual value was set at $13.125 million per year. He received a subtle $8 million signing bonus, along with $27 million in fully guaranteed money.

Follow the money

Structure. When discussing the most prominent contracts in NFL history we assess those deals off of so-called “headline” money. “Le’Veon Bell has signed a $52.5 million contract with the Jets.” “Le’Veon Bell becomes the highest-paid running back in the league.”

What most fail to learn is the structure of a player’s deal.

Assessing the Le’Veon Bell deal today

At the time of writing, Bell ranks third in AAV behind Christian McCaffrey ($16 million) and Ezekiel Elliott ($15 million). His guaranteed money ranks sixth among NFL running backs.

So when observing all of the numbers we ask ourselves, “Was the Le’Veon Bell contract worth it?” All signs point to yes.

Where everyone went wrong with the NY Jets

It is quite obvious that Bell and the entire Jets offense struggled on the ground last season. It is easy to look at the statistics and point to why the Jets made the wrong decision giving Bell that sum of money.

The reason the deal was actually a smart decision wasn’t the amount of money given, but the structure itself. The rule of thumb amongst NFL general managers is once you give a player 60 percent of his money within three years that contract is considered “player-friendly.”

Bell is earning 76 percent, yes 76 percent of his $52 million after 2021. Don’t be fooled as this actually helps the Jets. Let’s look at where the Jets rank amongst NFL teams in cap space for the remainder of Bell’s deal.

In 2019 the Jets were 12th in cap space, they now have the sixth most for 2020, third in 2021, and seventh in 2022. Elliott, who signed an extension shortly after the Bell signing, has left Dallas ranked 24th in cap space for 2020, 20th in 2021, and 29th in 2022.

Derrick Henry just put pen to paper on a four-year, $50 million deal with the Tennessee Titans. The Titans rank in the bottom 20 in 2021 and 2022.

That’s not taking a shot at Elliott nor Henry. They are phenomenal players who deserved every penny they got. You can’t compare Bell’s money to Henry’s when the cap situation is not a problem for New York at all for the next couple of seasons.

It should also be noted that when Bell signed his contract he had been involved in 66.6 percent of all offensive snaps. Henry was in on 41.4 percent of the Titans’ snaps leading up to his deal.

Obviously things can change and the value of Bell’s on-field performance may never completely justify the numbers, but why not take a chance on a former top-5 running back who had no signs of slowing down?

Crunching numbers

With a two-year cash flow of $28.4 million (second among running backs) and a three-year cash flow of $39.9 million (first among running backs), the Jets are simply front-loading the deal to create room for later.

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All of Bell’s guaranteed money of $27 million will be fully paid after this season. That leaves New York with just $4 million in dead cap (all signing bonus money) if they were to release Bell after 2020.

Per Over The Cap, Bell also has $500k in per-game bonuses each year throughout his deal, while also carrying roster bonuses of $4.5 million in 2020, $3 million in 2021, and $3 million in 2022.

It was a shot in the dark but the blame should not go on the Jets for making this deal happen. If he performs like he once did a couple of years ago then great! If not, then oh well.

That deal did not and will not hurt the Jets moving forward.

Conclusion

The flack given is understandable because of the 2018 season where Bell did not play via holdout. Jets fans have a reason to be nervous about a decrease in performance but at 27-years-old Bell has plenty of miles left on him compared to other 27-year-old running backs.

It’s hard to justify whether Bell can ever get back to playing at his 2016 level. Let’s not get caught up in the reported money but look at the nuts and bolts of each deal.

There are a lot of things we must fix moving forward. But I think Le’Veon Bell is a part of the solution to get back to winning football.

Next. NY Jets: 4 players linked to Gang Green in 2021 NFL Mock Drafts

Let me leave you with this…would you have done the deal? I know I would have.

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