Jamal Adams recruited Le'Veon Bell hard during the offseason, and did his best to convince the Jets' front office to follow his lead. It was clearly his biggest offseason priority.
"Simple, man," Adams said. "I just want to win."
The Jets will start to find out on Sunday afternoon whether Bell was worth Adams' time and the Jets' money. They signed him to a four-year, $52.5 million contract in March with $35 million in guaranteed money, as the crown jewel of their two-year free-agent spending spree. In many ways, he was also the last big piece of their long rebuilding plan.
But was he worth it? And, on the heels of Ezekiel Elliott signing a six-year, $90 million contract extension with $50 million guaranteed, is any running back worth that kind of money? Even Adam Gase reportedly questioned that when former GM Mike Maccagnan was leading the Jets' dogged pursuit of Bell.
Now he talks as if Bell is the greatest offensive weapon he's ever had.
"He can do everything," Gase said. "There's a reason why this guy has been what he's been since he's been in the NFL."
No doubt, if he's anything like the player he was with the Steelers two years ago, he will be one of the most important players on the Jets. So they clearly have no regrets, just like the Giants have no regrets about drafting -- and paying -- Saquon Barkley. The two New York running back stars will surely be worth the combined $66.2 million investment in guaranteed money -- at least in 2019.
But there still is a question of whether running backs are worth that kind of investment in general after years of the position being devalued. Thanks to Bell and Todd Gurley (four years, $57.5 million, $45 million guaranteed) and now Elliott, there's a financial resurgence at that position.
But is that a good thing?
"He can do everything," Adams said. "He changed the game. With his stop and his acceleration to stop on a dime, to have patience in the backfield, letting blocks clear. Not only that, he can block and catch the ball and he's a hell of a teammates.
Bell has long been one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the league. But his worth had been a constant source of controversy. It's why he spent last year holding out, refusing to sign his franchise tag. The Steelers didn't want to pay him the big money he felt he deserved.
But the debate really isn't about the money. No one cares how team owners spend their cash. It's more about the value of the position in a salary-capped sport. Should that much of a team's available resources be devoted to one of the riskiest and most dangerous positions in the game?
Few players in the NFL take the kind of pounding running backs take game in and game out. They wear down quicker. Maybe the age of 30 isn't the cliff it once was for that position, but there's an obviously higher physical risk for players who touch the ball and absorb hits 300 times per season -- about 20 times per game. Sometimes they take multiple hits on the same play, in close quarters from some of the biggest players on the field. They do it even when they're just blocking, and angry linebackers come at them with a 5-10 yard head start.
So basically, teams are paying huge money to players who, as one former running back once described it, are "in a car crash every Sunday". Sure, the running backs deserve it. But is it really wise?
Gurley, in many ways, is the cautionary tale. He signed his lucrative extension with the Los Angeles Rams last July when he was only 23 years old, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year and a two-time Pro Bowler already. He was coming off a season where he totaled 2,093 yards and 19 touchdowns while touching the ball 343 times, and the plan was for him to do it again in 2018.
And he did, powering the Rams to a 11-3 record with 1,831 yards and 21 touchdowns on 315 touches through 14 games.
Then he hurt his knee. He didn't play in the Rams final two regular season games. And despite an impressive performance in the Rams' playoff opener (16 carries for 116 yards and a touchdown) he was a shell of himself in the postseason. In the Super Bowl, a 13-3 loss where the Rams' offense was basically invisible, he carried only 10 times for 35 yards and caught just one pass for minus-1 yards.
It's not a surprise that he wore down and got hurt, considering the pounding his body had taken after 1,250 touches over four seasons, not to mention the 1,100-plus touches he had in his three previous years at the University of Georgia.
Now Bell, feeling rejuvenated after his 20-month layoff, seems worth it for the Jets. But will he last four years and 1,200 touches on a contract that takes him until he's 30? And what about Barkley? Everyone assumes he'll set new standards for a running back contract when his rookie deal expires in 2023. But at his current pace, Barkley will have touched the ball 1,760 times by then. He'll only be 25, but only 79 players in NFL history - 100 years of NFL history - have touched the ball more than that in their entire careers.
Maybe he's one of the special ones. Maybe he can join the 20 who had 3,000 career touches. Maybe Bell (who has 1,541 touches so far) is special enough, and rejuvenated enough to join that list.
It's just not a great long-term bet.
In the short term, though? Sure, they both could be worth it. The Jets believe Bell can transform them into an instant contender. The Giants believe Barkley can lead them to a championship before the end of his rookie deal. They are also two of the most marketable players on the team, which counts for a lot, too.
That doesn't change the fact that running backs aren't a great long-term investment. So guys like Bell and Barkley, or even Elliott and Gurley, will always have to prove their worth right now.