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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

The NFL stopped being a running back’s league long ago — just ask Le’Veon Bell

Bell is moving on, but will he ever get a contract like he had with Jets again? (Hint: no.)
Bell is moving on, but will he ever get a contract like he had with Jets again? (Hint: no.)
Image: (Getty Images)

The New York Jets’ decision to release Le’Veon Bell Tuesday is not shocking — it made a lot of sense, given the direction the game has been heading.

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The Jets weren’t utilizing Bell as much as they should have been, and Adam Gase, the team’s head coach (for now), was reportedly never a fan.

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We already knew that pairing would not work well over the long term.

Aside from reports that Bell was “disgruntled” by the organization’s direction, the 28-year-old secured the bag when he signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract to join the Jets last season.

He waited an entire year to find a sucker willing to reward him for sitting out all of 2018. He deserved that deal and accomplished his goal.

The only other running back in the league in that period to bedazzle his way into the depths of an NFL owner’s pocket is none other than Ezekiel “Feed Me” Elliot. In 2019, Elliot grabbed a five-year, $90 million deal with $50 million guaranteed.

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That’s likely what Bell was looking for from his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But after surveilling the league and watching what has transpired on the NFL running back market, Bell is very lucky. He only competed in 18 games in two-and-a-half years and bagged $28 million.

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Very little mileage and no career-ending injuries = pretty darn good work!

On the market, running backs after six to eight good seasons in the NFL, are generally considered toast. Bell, who entered the league in 2013, is now in that category.

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You look at a guy like Todd Gurley, who was cut from the Los Angeles Rams after last season for underperformance and injury. In 2018 he signed a four-year, $60 million contract with the Rams. He is now on a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the disoriented Atlanta Falcons.

Gurley gets away.
Gurley gets away.
Image: (Getty Images)
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They didn’t want to pay him.

Look at Adrian Peterson this season. Granted, he’s 35, but he joined the Detroit Lions on a no-frills, one-year, $1.05 million deal. While Gurley and Bell have far more tread on them than Peterson, there is a trend that teams do not want to invest in running backs.

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After their rookie deals, the Brinks trucks never materialize.

The NFL is not a running-style game anymore. In the ‘70s, ‘80s, and 90's, running backs were some of the highest-paid players in the league. They were the most critical component to the offense outside of the quarterback. They controlled whether their teams could put points on the board.

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Today that is not the case.

Good luck trying to run the ball to death against the Green Bay Packers or the Seattle Seahawks. Those teams are averaging over 34 points a game.

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The Cowboys probably feel the money they gave Elliott a few years ago is a waste. Dallas is averaging 33 points a game; thus, Elliott is not running the ball as much as he did in the past. And their shift in play has a lot to do with new head coach Mike McCarthy, offensive niche. He likes to be aggressive and get the ball down the field.

And in 2020, many teams’ plans and objectives are to do the same.

So the plummeting value on the market for a running back makes sense. I’m sure Bell will find a landing spot soon, but no team in 2020 will pay him or any other running back what he earned in New York.

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It won’t happen, even if they sit out an entire year, as Bell did.

When he is offered a new deal, at most, it will be for one to two years and around five to six million a year.

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And that’s only if teams that could utilize him like Houston, Chicago and Buffalo suspect Bell has other options.

All three of these teams have a poor running game, and their offense is struggling right now because their quarterbacks have no weapons around them.

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I think that’s the right situation that a strong running back like Bell could thrive. But maybe not break the bank in doing so.

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