It wasn't long after the Jets signed Le'Veon Bell to a four-year, $52.5 million contract last March that word got out that Adam Gase was against the signing. But any objection the Jets coach had wasn't really about Bell, it was about investing so much in one player at that particular position.
Because Gase understands that one running back isn't enough in today's NFL. Ideally, teams even need more than two.
And that's what was behind the signing of veteran Frank Gore on Tuesday -- adding depth to the Jets' backfield and lessening the load this season on the 28-year-old Bell. In 2019, Bell -- fresh off a year away from football -- had 63.9 percent of the Jets' runs from scrimmage (245 of 383). In fact, he had 79.5 percent of the Jets' runs by a running back (245 of 308) in the 15 games he played.
That's not a sustainable number in Gase's opinion. Bell will wear down both late in the season and late in games, as he certainly seemed to do in his first season with the Jets. Gase needs to have a committee of backs he can trust to spell Bell for a series, or even a handful of plays -- something he clearly didn't feel he had last season with Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery.
This year, the Jets added La'Mical Perine, a fourth-round pick out of Florida, and now the soon-to-be-37-year-old Gore.
And Gase loves Gore, a likely future Hall of Famer. Gase had Gore in his Miami Dolphins backfield-by-committee in 2018, and they were together in San Francisco in 2008 when Gase was an offensive assistant with the 49ers. Last year, when the Jets were preparing to face Gore and the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, Gase was asked if he was amazed that Gore is still playing. Here's what he said:
"It's unbelievable," Gase said. "If you watched him work day-in and day-out, it wouldn't surprise you. We would always say, 'Hey, we think you should take today off,' and he's like, 'Wednesdays, I'm practicing.' And he wants every rep. You're in full pads and he's going at it like it's Sunday. That's just how he looks. That's how he's always been.
"He loves football. There's no other place he'd rather be than the practice field, game day. Everything about football, he loves."
Of course, Gore isn't quite what he used to be. He had 166 carries for a career-low 599 yards last season, while only starting eight games -- the fewest since his rookie season. His yards per carry of 3.6 was also the lowest of his career.
But really, until 2018 when he split work in Gase's backfield with Kenyan Drake, Gore was unstoppable, topping 950 yards in 11 of the previous 12 seasons. And he's durable, too. He did miss two games for Gase's Dolphins two years ago, but those are the only two games he's missed in the last nine years.
That's the kind of reliability Gase wanted behind Bell, who had the worst year of his career last year -- 245 carries for 789 yards in 15 games -- and it wasn't all because of the porous offensive line. Now Gore can take a couple of series per game to keep Bell fresh for when he's really needed. And maybe the presence of Gore and a rookie like Perine could push Bell, too.
As for the future, that's unclear. Bell still seems likely to be an ex-Jet by 2021. Perine could be his future replacement. But at this point, who would bet against Gore returning at age 38? Those discussions are for later. For now, Gase has a backfield that looks a little bit more like what he wants. And if it keeps Bell fresher, it likely means he'll be better.
And the Jets will be better, too.