One year ago, Mike Maccagnan set the Jets up for their future by finding the franchise quarterback they had been seeking for 50 years.
Now he's found a weapon that can actually help his franchise quarterback win.
There was only one true game-changing offensive player on the NFL free-agent market, and the Jets GM got him late Tuesday night when running back Le'Veon Bell agreed to terms on a deal with the Jets, an NFL source confirmed. The deal is a steal at four years, $52.5 million, according to a source, with a reported $35 million guaranteed.
For all the other good things that Maccagnan did during the first two days of free agency, this was the win he had to have. It was painfully obvious that quarterback Sam Darnold had no real weapons to help him during his rookie season. Now he has a 27-year-old player who has been one of the best weapons in the league.
And Maccagnan was after him from the start, though at times it seemed as if Bell was just toying with the Jets. Multiple league sources had told SNY that the Jets were perceived as the favorite to land him, but Bell took longer than expected to make up his mind.
Some of that is because it seems the market he envisioned never materialized, as evidenced by a contract that is smaller than many projected. It seemed as if Bell was sitting on the Jets' offer and using it to get other teams to match it. The Jets, a source said, grew frustrated and told Bell they wanted an answer. Some around the league wondered if Bell wanted to play for the Jets at all.
But Maccagnan stuck it out and played it perfectly, getting the second-biggest piece to his rebuilding puzzle in place (Darnold, of course, is the first). Bell is a dual-threat dynamo. In 2017, the last time he played before his year-long holdout from the Pittsburgh Steelers, he had 1,291 rushing yards and 85 catches for 655 yards. In 2016 he had 1,268 rushing yards and caught 75 passes for 616 yards - all in just 12 games.
This is the kind of player that new coach Adam Gase could build his offense around. And he's the kind of safety net that can only help a young quarterback develop. Last year, the entire offense was on Darnold's right arm. This year, he's got Bell to carry much of the load.
And the Jets like the other pieces they've put around Darnold too. They are high on receivers Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson and tight end Chris Herndon, and they have added free agent slot receiver Jamison Crowder. The addition of Kelechi Osemele at left guard should make the Jets' offensive line stronger, especially if they can add a center in free agency, too.
Even if they don't do anything else they have improved what was the NFL's 25th-ranked offense enough to get the Jets a step closer to being a contender. They're not there yet. Maybe they would've been if they hadn't lost out on edge-rusher Anthony Barr, who backed out of an agreement to sign with the Jets so he could re-sign with the Minnesota Vikings. They could still use some help at cornerback, too.
But most of the pieces of this young, improving team now seem to be in place - and none of them were bigger than Bell.