Here we go again with Le’Veon Bell generating controversy.
Just a few months after signing his $13.125 million-per-year deal with the Jets, Bell already has called into question his level of commitment by skipping several weeks of the offseason program, including a minicamp. Granted, Bell has not missed New York’s mandatory minicamp, set for June 4-6, or the Jets’ OTA sessions that begin in two weeks. And he surely will be at training camp to avoid major fines.
But for a player who sat out the entire 2018 season during his contract dispute with the Steelers, his offseason program absence sends a bad message to his new coaches and teammates. Bell should be sweating through strength and conditioning activities with the guys, working hard to learn new Jets coach Adam Gase’s offense and beginning to get in sync with quarterback Sam Darnold and New York’s offensive line.
This is not a good start to Bell’s Jets career despite his claims to the contrary this week on social media.
“When it’s time to play football, I got to stick to the formula that works for me to be the best player I can be,” Bell said. “I’m not just tryna win football games. I want a ring. I’ll take the heat right now. Everybody will forget about that once January comes around.”
Spoken like the diva the Jets hoped had vacated Bell’s persona once he departed the Steel City.
Apparently the player who alienated his Steelers teammates by sending repeated tweets from South Beach last season while the team played on without him is the proverbial leopard who never changes its spots.
Gase has downplayed Bell’s absence so far: “It’s voluntary. He was here that first week (of offseason workouts) and we got a lot of good information that week to him. He knows how to get his body ready for training camp and the regular season.”
I’m not buying the coach’s enabler-like statement. Gase and New York general manager Mike Maccagnan can’t be happy that their high-priced running back is absent during this team-building period. I thought this follow-up quote from Gase was more telling of his true feelings: “The guys that shows up, we’re going to try to help get better.”
I know that, as a GM, I would be annoyed with Bell. I would be telling him that with the big contract comes leadership responsibility, which requires such a player to be present for all team activities. Star running back Eddie George was such a player during our Titans Super Bowl era; he never missed a workout, OTA, practice or game.
Instead, by virtue of his no-show, Bell is in effect saying, “I’m special. I’m different from the rest of you. As the star, I’ll show up when I feel like it.”
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Of course the New York media has been all over this story. Again, this is not the kind of publicity the Jets are seeking as they try to rebound from last year’s 4-12 finish and eight straight non-playoff seasons.
Things were looking up recently for the Jets after last year’s drafting of Darnold, who has the look of the franchise QB for whom the Jets have long been searching and a player who made nice strides late in his rookie season, highlighted by 341 passing yards and three TDs in an overtime loss to the Packers in Week 16.
Then Maccagnan added a top linebacker in free agency this spring with the signing of four-time Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley. Another excellent addition is Quinnen Williams, the Alabama defensive tackle many personnel people felt was the best player regardless of position in this year’s draft.
Bell was supposed to be the icing on the free-agent cake for the Jets as a three-time Pro Bowler who when healthy has been one of the best dual-purpose backs in the game. But it was a signing that carried some risk with a player who has missed five games due to league suspensions and 12 games due to various injuries in his five NFL seasons. And then there’s the missed 2018 season due to what in my view was the most ridiculous holdout in NFL history.
What is extra troubling about Bell being away from the team during most of the offseason program so far is that he is setting himself up to be criticized by teammates, as was the case in Pittsburgh. Players get tired of being asked about absent teammates. Last year Bell implied that he was planning on reporting early in the regular season, but he changed his mind after several Steelers offensive linemen criticized his absence and called him selfish.
If that’s true, why would Bell set himself up for his new teammates to potentially question why he was not present for an offseason program that under new league rules is much easier on players than in the past? It’s not as if there’s a lot of extra wear and tear on a running back who will have limited carries in the offseason and will play little in preseason games. It’s more about the mental reps and being present for walk-through practices in which he can learn and carry out all his assignments in the running game and as a receiver out of the backfield.
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If Bell repeats his 2,215 combined yards rushing and receiving from 2014 and is a major cog in the return of the Jets to the playoffs as he is forecasting, then his poor judgment in skipping parts of the offseason will be easier to forget.
In the meantime, he is repeating his recent history of causing his team unnecessary angst.
Jeff Diamond is a former president of the Titans and former vice president/general manager of the Vikings. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year in 1998. Diamond is currently a business and sports consultant who also does broadcast and online media work. He makes speaking appearances to corporate/civic groups and college classes on negotiation and sports business/sports management. He is the former chairman and CEO of The Ingram Group. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffdiamondNFL.