Todd Gurley’s Arthritis Could Make Jets Think Twice About A Long-Term Le’Veon Bell Deal

Le’Veon Bell spent all of the 2018 season on the sidelines, metaphorically. Todd Gurley spent much of Super Bowl LIII on the sidelines, literally. And it’s the latter fact that should give the New York Jets pause as they ponder a potential offer to the soon-to-be former Pittsburgh Steeler running back.

A recent report in The Athletic said the Jets are “undeniably the favorite” in the Bell sweepstakes, which will begin next week when the disgruntled runner finally will be separated officially from a shattered, but often productive, marriage with the Steelers. And while Bell’s self-imposed year off certainly reduced the amount of wear and tear on his body and his legs, the recently reported diagnosis of Gurley’s arthritis shows the danger of giving lucrative, long-term contracts to running backs.

Granted, Bell is a cut above many backs, as is Gurley, but the NFL has become a passing-dominated league, and just like every player, Bell is only one hit away from a potentially career-ending injury.

Still, it obviously makes sense for the Jets to look into it and see what Bell’s salary demands will be, given the amount of cap space they have entering free agency. Even with less emphasis on the run in today’s NFL, Bell is the kind of game-changer who can make life much easier for rising star quarterback Sam Darnold. But also should keep in mind they have many other holes to fill and are far from the point at which they will be one player away from contending for the Super Bowl.

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For all the deserved hype Darnold got last year, especially late in the season, he is by no means a finished product.

So, not surprisingly, the story in The Athletic about the Jets’ interest in Bell also noted they could be in on Atlanta’s Tevin Coleman, too. So let’s compare the two.

Bell obviously is the more accomplished back, which is why he is at the head of this free-agent class at his position. In five years with the Steelers, he has averaged 4.3 yards on 1,229 carries and also has 312 receptions for an average of 8.5 yards. That’s 1,541 touches from scrimmage for Bell, who turned 27 in February.

Coleman, who will be 26 in April, has never had as much of a workload as Bell in his four years in the league, although his averages per touch are slight. He is averaging 4.4 yards on 528 rushes, and 11.0 on 92 catches. So he has 921 fewer career touches than Bell, quite a difference in terms of wear and tear.

Conversely, Coleman hasn’t proven he can carry the rushing load the way Bell has. Only once has Bell had fewer than 244 carries, and that happened in 2015 when he missed 10 games because of injury.

If the Jets go with Coleman or another second-tier running back in free agency, they will have to have someone to share the load. General manager Mike Maccagnan is high on young backs Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon, but it remains to be seen how good they will be.

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This much is certain: If new head coach Adam Gase has his say, Philadelphia’s Jay Ajayi will not be on the Jets’ free-agent list. The two clashed when Gase was Miami’s head coach and Ajayi thus was shipped to the Eagles via trade.