Use him or move him.
The Jets need to either use Le’Veon Bell properly or trade him.
This figures to be a critical issue the team, beginning with general manager Joe Douglas, must tackle in the offseason.
Because this question has yet to be answered though 12 games this season: Why pay one of the premier running backs in the NFL some $13 million a year if you’re not going to use him as your Bell cow?
The Jets — particularly head coach Adam Gase — have tap danced around the underutilization of Bell so much this season that it has become tiresome and a waste of everyone’s time: theirs, Bell’s, Sam Darnold’s and the fans’.
Use him or move him.
Once this miserable season comes to its merciful end, Douglas needs to make a decision: Is he going to build this Jets offense around both Darnold and Bell?
If Bell, who was acquired in the offseason with thoughts that he was going to transform Darnold and the offense into an unstoppable force, is going to continue to be used essentially as a part-time player, the Jets should get whatever draft pick they can for him in an offseason trade — even if they have to swallow some of his guaranteed money (which they surely would have to).
The question, particularly after coming off his worst season, is what the market would be for Bell, who’s guaranteed $13.5 million in 2020?
The Jets’ leverage in trading Bell is, to borrow an oft-used Gase phrase, “not ideal.’’
The secret that Gase was not in favor of then-GM Mike Maccagnan signing Bell has long been out of the bag. It’s not that Gase doesn’t like Bell personally. It’s that Gase favors a passing attack and doesn’t value running backs highly. He believes he can get by with a complementary running game.
Gase should worship Bell for the way he’s conducted himself all season, keeping his frustrations to himself and not sabotaging the team by ranting in public. Bell has been a model teammate and, by all accounts, is one of the hardest workers in the building.
It would be a shame to see him go. But this clearly has not been a fit.
And, unless Douglas and Gase commit to figuring out how to turn Bell into the weapon he was in Pittsburgh, this will continue to be a waste of money and potential draft resources that could be acquired in a trade.
It’s not clear what Douglas’ philosophy is on the importance of Bell — essentially because he rarely is made available to speak to reporters, and he’s not likely to make his exact thoughts on the matter public anyway. Bell, remember, was not a Douglas signing.
Bell’s failure with the Jets — and, more significantly, theirs with him — has turned him into one of the most disappointing offseason acquisitions in the league in 2019.
The disconnect between Gase and Bell was on full display in Sunday’s 22-9 loss to the previously winless Bengals, who entered the game ranked last in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing an average of almost 167 yards per game. The Jets ran 69 offensive plays and Bell had 14 touches — 10 runs and four receptions.
After the game, Gase did what he’s shown an annoying propensity to do: decline to take accountability for his shortcomings.
He rambled on about how that’s the way the game played out. And then Monday, after having watched tape of the game, he delivered the same double-talk without proper explanation or accountability.
After producing 18 100-yard rushing games in his previous five seasons, Bell not only doesn’t have a 100-yard rushing game as a Jet, his highest rushing total this season is 70 yards, and that came in a 33-0 loss to the Patriots. Before this season, Bell had rushed for 70 or more yards in 35 of the 74 games he’d played in the NFL.
Bell entered this season averaging 127.3 yards from scrimmage on 26.2 touches per game in his five seasons in Pittsburgh, and he’s averaged just 97.8 yards from scrimmage on 19.8 touches this season. He entered this season averaging 87.6 rushing yards per game on 4.4 yards per carry, and is averaging 49.1 yards on 3.2 yards per carry as a Jet.
None of it adds up. And none of it makes sense when you factor in the $52.5 million, four-year contract the Jets gave him.
Yes, there have been mitigating circumstances that have contributed to Bell’s struggles, beginning with the team’s miscalculation of its retooling of the offensive line, Darnold missing three games with mononucleosis and a litany of injuries on the team.
But still: Bell has not been utilized as the player he was before he got here and probably still is.
So, stop wasting his — and everyone else’s — time.
Use him or move him.
For more on the Jets, listen to the latest episode of the “Gang’s All Here” podcast:
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