FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Jets figure to make a huge offseason push for the second consecutive year to try to sign the biggest star on the free agent market.
But for the second consecutive year, it looks like that player may not want to sign with them.
Running back Le'Veon Bell, who is expected to become a free agent on March 13, "has his eyes on" the Indianapolis Colts, according to a source familiar with Bell's plans. The source, who has spoken to Bell, said the free agent hasn't ruled out signing with the Jets or any team that pursues him, but the Colts, with quarterback Andrew Luck and perhaps more than $120 million in salary cap room, seem to be at the "top of his list."
"He has his eyes on the Colts, no doubt about that," the source said. "He sees Luck and that offense and all that cap room and they're much closer than the Jets. He wants to go someplace he can win right away."
If that's still Bell's desire when the market opens, it puts the Jets in the same awkward and unenviable position they were in last March, when they made signing quarterback Kirk Cousins their top free agent priority. At the time, as SNY reported, they were worried that Cousins wasn't really interested in coming to New York, and just wanted to use their offer as leverage to get more from the Minnesota Vikings.
That proved to be true, as Cousins revealed in a documentary on his free agent process. The Jets offered him a fully-guaranteed, three-year, $90 million contract. Once he got that, he said he just wanted the Vikings to present an offer that was "competitive with the Jets' offer." Eventually he signed with the Vikings for $6 million less.
Bell, who will turn 27 in February, certainly could do the same, especially since the Colts conceivably could match the Jets, who are projected to have about $106 million in cap room according to overthecap.com, dollar for dollar. The Jets, though, will be desperate for Bell, given the state of their offense, the need to surround quarterback Sam Darnold with weapons and the fact that there aren't many available on the free agent market. The Colts, meanwhile, already have two young, promising running backs in Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines, and could decide to spend their money elsewhere.
But Bell, despite some speculation that Bell signing with the Jets is a 'forgone conclusion', has hinted he's hoping the Colts use their cap room on him. Back in October, the NFL posted a picture of Luck on Instagram to celebrate his eighth straight game with at least three touchdown passes. Bell responded to that post writing "just imagine" in the comment section.
Of course, Bell also "liked" an Instagram post on Thursday that contained a quote from former Steelers teammate and current Jets defensive tackle Steve McLendon, who said he could be "the Jamal Adams on offense" for the Jets. Who knows what that "like" means, though? Bell has sent mixed messages about the Jets through social media, including a Tweet last February after a fan reached out to him on Twitter and said the Jets will "give you $60 million in cash if you come play for us."
Bell's response: "that ain't enough to come run with the Jets." And a few days later, he told TMZ he'd need "a hundred Ms" -- or $100 million -- to sign with the Jets.
Chances are, all that social media stuff means nothing. Besides, who knows how much his thoughts -- and price -- will change when free agency begins? And that's assuming he actually becomes a free agent. Bell seems to be headed that way after he held out for the entire 2018 season rather than sign the $14.5 million franchise tag the Pittsburgh Steelers placed on him. The Steelers still could use the tag, or the transition tag, on him again in 2019, but they are not expected to do that, which would make him an unrestricted free agent.
And as a UFA, teams could be lining up for him, including playoff-caliber teams like the Colts and Kansas City Chiefs, who recently cut their star running back, Kareem Hunt, after a video surfaced showing him attacking a woman in a hotel. Bell, a three-time Pro Bowler, rushed for 1,291 yards and caught 85 passes for 655 yards in just 15 games last season. The year before, he rushed for 1,268 yards and caught 75 passes for 616 yards despite playing in only 12 games.
There are no running backs on the free agent market who have come even close to that kind of production over the years.
The Jets, meanwhile, have a gaping hole at running back. Bilal Powell is a free agent and not expected to be re-signed, and they could part ways with Isaiah Crowell (685 rushing yards, 21 catches for 152 yards) this offseason. They have two young running backs in Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon, but neither of them are anywhere near Bell's class.