NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Jets and former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell have agreed on a deal, a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press early Wednesday morning.
ESPN first reported the signing, and said the deal is for four years and $52.5 million.
The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because teams can’t officially announce signings until the start of the new league year Wednesday afternoon.
Bell, a former Michigan State star, also announced his decision on Twitter , saying: “I’m back in the green baby, let’s get it.”
The deal gives new coach Adam Gase and second-year quarterback Sam Darnold a big-time playmaker, arguably the best player at his position before Bell opted to sit out all of last season rather than sign a franchise tender with Pittsburgh.
The 27-year-old Bell is a two-time AP All-Pro selection and three-time Pro Bowl pick who immediately upgrades the Jets’ backfield.
New York still has Isaiah Crowell, Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon, but Crowell is likely to be released after one season with the team. Bilal Powell, the team’s fourth-round pick in 2011, is a free agent.
Bell has rushed for 5,336 yards and 35 touchdowns, and has 312 catches for 2,660 yards and seven scores as one of the most versatile and dangerous offensive players in the NFL. His 128.9 yards from scrimmage per game over his career is the best mark in the NFL since the 1970 merger.
Bell’s career reached a crossroads, however, last year when he declined to sign his one-year, $14.4 million franchise tender with the Steelers and making himself ineligible to play. It was an unprecedented move as Bell — who received the franchise tag in two straight years — skipped a season in his prime to preserve his long-term health and secure a big payday.
Last month, Pittsburgh decided to not place the transition tag on Bell. That cleared the running back to become an unrestricted free agent when the NFL’s new year begins Wednesday.
And the Jets pounced on a player they think can help Darnold take their offense to another level — despite the fact Bell hasn’t played since Pittsburgh’s playoff loss to Jacksonville on Jan. 14, 2018. That means it will be a span of 19 months in between game appearances by the time the preseason begins in August.
The Steelers drafted Bell with the 48th overall pick in 2013. He combined with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown to form Pittsburgh’s “Killer B’s” on offense, a potent trio of game-breaking talents.
With his patient running style and explosive burst, Bell quickly established himself as one of the best backs in the league. He was also arguably the NFL’s best pass-catcher out of the backfield, finishing 10th in the league with 85 catches in 2017. That combination of production had Bell focused on a contract that rewarded him like the dual threat he is.
He and the Steelers failed to reach an agreement on a new deal last summer, and he skipped training camp for the second straight year.
This time, though, he never returned to the team.
Instead, he’ll join the Jets and look to re-establish himself as arguably the best overall running back in the game — and try to help a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2010 season get back to winning.
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