Le'Veon Bell's future with the Jets remains as uncertain as it was at the end of last season, when GM Joe Douglas said he'd listen if teams called about his star running back. A trade remains "unlikely" according to a source familiar with the Jets' plans, but they'd consider it for the right offer.
It's just complicated because of Bell's contract. And it all depends on how eager the Jets are to get rid of Bell -- if they're even eager at all.
It's the contract that makes it "unlikely," though. Bell, who turned 28 on Tuesday, is entering the second year of a four-year, $52.5 million contract that includes $13 million in guarantees for 2020, which would be the responsibility of his new team. The Jets would almost certainly have to eat some of that money, as they did when they traded defensive lineman Leonard Williams to the Giants for a third- and fifth-round pick back in October.
Even if they did, multiple NFL sources do not believe the Jets could get that kind of return for Bell.
"Why not? Because he's an unknown now," said one AFC scout. "He obviously didn't look like himself last season. Is that because of the team or the (offensive) line? Or did he lose something after a year out of the game? I don't know. But he didn't have the same burst he had before. He looked tentative.
"He's probably not as bad as he looked last year, but will teams be willing to bet money and picks on that? I don't think so."
Bell did have the worst year of his career in 2019, gaining just 789 yards on 245 carries (3.2 yards per rush) in 15 games. Clearly some of that was because the Jets' offensive line wasn't good. There are also legitimate questions about the way Jets head coach Adam Gase used him, and how hurt he was by the way Gase's offense struggled all year.
But there might have been other factors at play. ESPN reported the Jets felt the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Bell gained weight last year and "lost explosiveness" as the season went along.
And that opens the question of whether the Jets are eager to get rid of him. Remember, Gase reportedly didn't want the Jets to sign Bell last March, and that signing occurred three months before Douglas took over as GM. At the end of the season, when Gase was asked if he wanted Bell back, he directed reporters to ask Douglas.
Douglas then praised Bell as "one of our best workers" and "one of our best teammates," but then he said he'd listen if other teams called.
Teams did call the Jets about Bell at the trading deadline, according to a team source. Bell later said he was told the Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, and even his old team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, were among the suitors. It didn't happen, he said, because "the Jets were really asking for a high price."
A team source confirmed the interest, but insisted the Jets weren't shopping Bell, and that none of those talks reached a serious stage. At the time, Bell was right: The Jets didn't want to trade him unless the return was significant.
Since Bell recently told TMZ he expects to remain with the Jets "unless something drastic changes," they likely have told him they still feel the same -- that it will take a significant offer to pry him away. And it definitely seems unlikely that they'll get one.
But as Douglas said, they'll be listening just in case.