The Jets will head into the offseason with more salary cap space than almost every other team in the NFL. They've vowed to be aggressive. They have an obvious need for offensive play-makers.
And they have absolutely no excuse to do whatever it takes to make sure they land free agent running back Le'Veon Bell.
That has to be their No. 1 priority when free agency opens in March if they truly want to contend for the playoffs next season. If they don't make him their No. 1 target, it will be hard to take them seriously as contenders at all. This is a franchise that has been stuck in what seems like a perennial rebuilding project with a dull team that will be lucky at this point to slog it's way to a second straight 5-11 year.
The only thing it has going for it is a franchise quarterback, who they hope is on his way to greatness.
But Sam Darnold can't do it alone.
In the 27-year-old Bell, Darnold and the Jets would get one of the NFL's best offensive weapons, and perhaps the best dual-threat running back in the game. In his last three (mostly) full seasons, he's averaged 1,306 yards rushing and 81 catches for 708 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Jets don't have anyone on their roster who can come close to matching production like that.
And all it would cost is money that the Jets have in abundance. They are projected to have more than $100 million in salary cap space, and Bell figures to command at least a four-year, $60 million contract with $50 million guaranteed - maybe more. The beauty of the NFL system is the Jets could structure a contract like that so it only has a cap hit of around $10 million.
So they could land Bell and still have $90 million more in salary cap space to fortify the line in front of him, get the edge rusher they need, and maybe an upgrade at wide receiver, too.
Bell has to be the centerpiece of that plan, though, assuming he becomes a free agent on March 13, as everyone expects he will. He famously hasn't reported to the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, unwilling to play under the $14.54 million franchise tag. When he failed to show by Tuesday, he became ineligible for the rest of the season. The Steelers technically could use the franchise or transition tag on him again in March, but no one in the NFL thinks they will.
That will leave him open to the highest bidder - and there should be plenty in a league that has seen a recent revival in the values of running backs. Just look at what the addition of Ezekiel Elliott did for the Dallas Cowboys in 2016, and what Todd Gurley is doing for the Los Angeles Rams this season. The Giants even passed on a potential franchise quarterback in the last draft to take Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick, because they were convinced a dual-threat running back could eventually do great things in their offense.
That's how important running backs have become.
Few can do it better than Bell. He would be an enormous upgrade as a runner over Isaiah Crowell. And at the moment, he'd be the Jets' best and most reliable receiver. Assuming they re-sign Quincy Enunwa and/or Robby Anderson and bring in a No. 1 receiver - either in the draft or the thin free agent market - he'd still be a huge passing game weapon.
If opposing defenses have to commit a safety or linebacker to cover him out of the backfield, think of what that could open up for everyone else.
They need more than just a running back, obviously. And even the best running backs need a good offensive line, which the Jets don't currently have. But they can find linemen, and there are even are a ton of top pass rushers available in free agency and the draft.
But they're not going to find a weapon like Bell anywhere else. He has to be the centerpiece of their offseason efforts. The Jets need to do whatever it takes to make him the centerpiece of their team.