It’s silly to give offseason grades before anybody takes the field for the Jets. What matters is how the players the Jets acquire actually perform on Sundays in the autumn. But that has never stopped anybody from giving premature grades before.
I’m going to offer my thoughts on the key Jets additions one by one. We will start at the top of the alphabet with Le’Veon Bell.
When writers evaluate a transaction, you usually see them give one grade for each move, but I think there are too many angles to dissect for one grade to work. So with each move I will give four grades.
Quality: How good is the player the Jets signed?
Need: How well does this move fill a need the Jets have?
Value: How well does the money in the contract correlate to the quality of play the Jets can expect to get?
Structure: I think this is frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted, but a good contract structure is better than a bad structure. How many potentially cheap years have the Jets tacked onto a deal if a player exceeds expectations? How many years have they committed to a player? How painlessly and how quickly can they escape a deal if it doesn’t pan out?
We will use the always-subjective, constantly-changing, world famous John B grading system.
A: Truly exceptional
C: Not good enough to get excited about; not bad enough to get upset about
D: Poor; barely passable
Now let’s talk about Bell.
2019: $8.5 million cap hit; $27 million dead money if cut (-$18.5 million cap savings)
2020: $15.5 million cap hit; $19 million dead money if cut (-$3.5 million cap savings)
2021: $13.5 million cap hit; $4 million dead money if cut ($9.5 million cap savings)
2022: $15 million cap hit; $2 million dead money if cut ($13 million cap savings)
Bell is one of the best running backs in the NFL. I don’t think there’s much debate on that front. He’s as good as any back in the league at waiting for blocks to develop and reading the angles on those blocks. He also is a premium receiving threat out of the backfield, which makes him a quarterback’s best friend.
It isn’t just that Bell is a huge upgrade over Isaiah Crowell. The Jets had precisely zero premium players on offense before signing Bell, and he was the only one available in free agency. The Jets couldn’t go into another season with the primary skill players being Crowell, Robby Anderson, and Quincy Enunwa. Those are fine supporting parts, but this team desperately needed a foundational piece for the offense. Bell provides that.
Bell is an elite back, and he is being paid like an elite back. The terms of the deal are fair, but I’ll give the Jets a little bonus because they did not reset the market at the position as so many free agent deals do.
This is the standard free agent deal that is easily escapable in two years. Normally I would give a C for a deal like this, but premium players like Bell are among the few who could conceivably get a three year commitment. Again I’ll give the Jets a little bonus as a reward.
This is a deal with risk for the Jets. Bell comes with plenty of baggage from his holdout and history of suspension. He also comes with some mileage on the odometer. The positional value isn’t high, and the history of big free agent deals for running backs is mixed.
With all of that said, I think this is a risk the Jets had to take. This team had to put premium talent around Sam Darnold. Keeping the status quo at the skill positions was a nonstarter, and Bell represented the only major upgrade in free agency. The offense now has that foundational piece. If Bell plays the way he did in Pittsburgh, he is going to be a huge help to Sam Darnold.
This was such an essential addition that I would have been fine even had the Jets signed a contract that reset the market at the running back position. The fact they didn’t makes the deal all the more pleasing.