At the start of the 2020 season, not many people would have expected running back Le’Veon Bell to be a win away from his maiden Super Bowl victory.
Having left the NY Jets back in October, the former Pittsburgh Steelers star was snapped up immediately by the Kansas City Chiefs, signing a one-year deal.
And despite missing the AFC Championship Game against the Buffalo Bills last month, the former Jet will now attempt to get his hands on the Lombardi Trophy for the first time this Sunday as the Chiefs look to secure back-to-back titles when they come up again the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Bell has featured sporadically for the Chiefs so far but if he scores on Sunday, he’ll have as many touchdowns as he picked up during his time with the Jets.
Le’Veon Bell was never a good fit for NY Jets
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Bell never lived up to the reputation he garnered during his time in Pittsburgh.
Despite sitting out the 2018 NFL season due to contract issues, he was still considered one of the best running backs in the league when the then general manager Mike Maccagnan signed him in 2019.
He was a proven winner with the Steelers, winning three AFC North titles and helping them make the playoffs on four occasions, which included a run to the AFC Championship Game in 2017.
That success mentality demonstrates why he picked the Chiefs over the likes of the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills; he has a longing desire to win a championship.
Which makes his decision to join New York in 2019 even more questionable. The Jets finished 4-12 the previous season in 2018 and hadn’t made the playoffs since 2010.
Like their current situation, they were in full rebuild mode when they made Bell the second-highest-paid running in the NFL in 2019, with a four-year, $52.5 million contract. He was to be their superstar.
But Bell never showed the desire or hunger required to help turn around the fortunes of a franchise desperate to become a winning team.
And despite him seeming motivated to make 2020 the best year of his career, regular clashes with head coach Adam Gase deterred that from coming to fruition.
There was never a sense that a special relationship between the two and the Jets was there.
He performed poorly in New York throughout, struggled with injures, and ended up playing only 17 games for the Jets.
The NY Jets have learned their lesson
Make no mistake, the Jets have to take some of the blame for Bell’s struggles. They overpaid for one player and couldn’t upgrade elsewhere.
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In Pittsburgh, Bell had one of the best run-block offensive lines in the whole of the NFL, with the likes of David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, and Alejandro Villanueva in front of him.
In New York, he had one of the worst. The Jets averaged just 0.7 rushing yards before contact per attempt in Bell’s first season in 2019, the lowest across the whole league. Bell needed the support, but it never came.
Current GM Joe Douglas hasn’t been afraid to move on players, like Bell, for the sake of building a better ethos within his team or to upgrade in future drafts.
Disgruntled star safety Jamal Adams was traded to Seattle for a couple of first-round picks last year while players like Avery Williamson and Steve McLendon — the latter of which will play for the Buccaneers against Bell this weekend — were moved on to get more draft capital in the later rounds.
The impact of Douglas’ strategy hasn’t been felt on the field just yet and will take time, but he’s certainly rooting for the right players to come into a culture fit scheme.
He’s already done well to install a new, highly-regarded coaching staff this offseason, and even though we can’t make any judgments just yet, there is certainly a different feel to the attitudes of the players and the fans.
And he’s not, like Maccagnan, gone for expensive free-agent stars so far into his tenure.
Considering the amount of salary cap at the Jets disposal, it’ll be interesting to see how Douglas and the Jets go about their business this offseason and which signings they make in free agency.
With some controversial figures being linked, such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and Richard Sherman, the Jets won’t want to make the same mistake on a player like they did with Bell.
All in all, it wasn’t to be a match destined for greatness between Le’Veon Bell and the Jets, who did a good thing by cutting him during this past season.
There’s a lot more to be done in their rebuild but getting rid of players like Bell has been a decent start for the Jets.
As for the Super Bowl, the other ex-Jet who will feature alongside Bell for the Chiefs is defensive tackle Mike Pennel.
Todd Bowles, who was sacked as Jets head coach shortly before Bell’s arrival, will be on the sidelines as the defensive coordinator for Tampa Bay. Many Jets will be pleased to see him do well there.
It’ll be tough for the Jets and their fans to see Bell play on the biggest stage on Sunday, not least because of the dead money charge they are carrying for releasing him.
But make no mistake, both parties are much better off now without each other.
For the Jets, the search for their true superstar continues.