FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Le'Veon Bell and Jamal Adams were on the trading block on Tuesday, and both could have been dealt if the price was right. Was a deal unlikely? Yes. But it was certainly possible. And it might be possible again in the offseason, too.
But the best-case scenario for the Jets in the offseason is exactly what happened on Tuesday, when both Bell and Adams learned they'd still be wearing Jets green. Because those two, along with quarterback Sam Darnold, are the three players the Jets should build around.
They can't dump them for future draft picks and subject their weary fan base to another rebuilding project again.
Yes, it takes "patience" to build a championship team, as Bell pleaded via Instagram on Tuesday night. But Jets fans have showed more than enough of that through the years. In the last nine seasons they have endured what seems like half-a-dozen rebuilding efforts. None of them have led to their first playoff berth since 2010.
This was supposed to be the year they arrived. They had the franchise quarterback of their dreams, they spent -- and maybe overspent -- to sign the best running back they've had in years, they used money and draft picks to augment a talented, young defensive corps and brought in one of the most aggressive and best defensive coordinators in the game to lead them.
Obviously it didn't work, since they're 1-6, and that's frustrating to everyone. But while no one wants to use excuses, it's hard to ignore the Jets' bad luck when Darnold loses three games to mono, his backup (Trevor Siemian) plays a half before tearing up his ankle, and their $85 million defensive captain (C.J. Mosley) lasts only a half before his season basically ends due to an injured groin.
That shouldn't obscure the fact that this team has a talented core, and Darnold, Adams and Bell are their nucleus. Building around them, not rebuilding without one or two of them, should be the focus of Douglas' offseason plan.
Another rebuilding project at this stage just simply won't do.
"Another rebuild? I would say that every team goes through a certain amount of rebuilding in every offseason," Douglas said on Tuesday. "I'm not going to classify this as a 'rebuild,' `tear down,' however you want to say that. I think we're going to be looking to upgrade multiple positions through the draft, through free agency, through every avenue I've described."
And that's fine, as long as it's augmenting the core -- Darnold, Bell and Adams for starters, but also rookie defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (one of two "untouchables" at the trading deadline, according to a team source), Mosley (when he's healthy) and safety Marcus Maye. Yes, the Jets need cornerbacks and edge rushers and receivers, and boy do they need offensive linemen.
But if they get all that and don't have most of the lead group intact -- Bell, Adams, Williams, Mosley and Maye -- they won't be better. They'll be worse.
Maybe Douglas shares Gase's view that a running back isn't worth what the Jets are paying Bell. And it's hard to argue that he's wrong at the moment, given that Bell only has 536 total yards in nearly half a season. But in many ways, he's been the Jets' best player, considering it's a miracle he's gotten any positive yardage behind their terrible offensive line. Bell's teammates love him. He's become a leader and not at all the disruption that some had feared.
As for Adams, it's true he can -- and probably will -- ask for (or demand) a new contract next season and eventually he and the Jets are heading full-steam into a tough negotiation, especially given how the safety market has exploded in recent years (see Landon Collins' six-year, $84 million contract with $44 million guaranteed from the Redskins, for example).
But here's what Douglas said about the outspoken Adams: "He wears the 'C' patch for a reason. The guy is an absolute warrior. He's the heartbeat of this team and this defense. … He's a mission statement guy. He's a guy that when you talk about the traits you're looking for, that's Jamal."
Yeah. He's the kind of guy who makes it possible to believe the Jets have greatness in them. Bell's talent, so far untapped in a green uniform, can have the same effect. And if Darnold turns into what everyone expects he will be, there's the Big Three every team needs. And how good could this team be if Mosley returns, Williams and Maye grow, and Douglas uses the draft and free agency wisely to fix the problems around them -- especially on the line?
The alternative -- getting rid of them for more draft picks, and then using some of those picks to replace the players they gave away -- seems like a fools' errand. And it sounds like Douglas might know it, too. That's why it never really seemed on Tuesday that he was truly interested in dealing Bell or Adams unless he could bait a team like the Cowboys into a completely insane price.
He nearly did. But in the end he didn't. And, as he told Bell and receiver Robby Anderson and presumably will tell Adams, "The value that was offered didn't equal the value that we have for them in the organization."
In other words: The Jets hold all of them in very high regard.
Now he needs to remember that, because Douglas fired a starting pistol on Tuesday and the race will undoubtedly continue in February and early March. Adams' Twitter tirade after the deadline will only add fuel to that fire. Douglas will get calls from GMs who think, or at least hope, they can pry Adams or Bell away.
But that would be a step backwards for an organization that, despite their miserable luck and horrible record this season, has been taking steps forward over the last few years. They have a chance to regain their momentum towards contention over the last nine games of the season. It won't make any sense to hit the reset button again.
Draft picks, especially high ones, are great for the future. But Adams and Bell are already here, and still here, and the Jets are better off for that. Now Douglas just needs to realize what Jets fans have been craving for ages: The future really can be right now.