New York – Le’Veon Bell sat out a full season while considering where he’d make his next playmaking moves.
Well-rested, motivated and armed with a new contract, the star running back is joining Sam Darnold and the New York Jets.
Bell agreed to a deal early Wednesday, a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations told the Associated Press. The decision ended months of speculation about where he’d resume his playing career after six years with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
ESPN first reported the signing, and said the deal is for four years and $52.5 million – including $35 million guaranteed.
Bell, a former Michigan State star, also announced his decision on Twitter, saying: “I’m back in the green baby, let’s get it.”
Several teams were mentioned throughout the past few days as having interest in signing Bell, with the Jets consistently among them. Many football fans and reporters took to their computers to download the new album released at midnight by the running back – who goes by the stage name “Juice” – to glean any potential clues in his lyrics he might have included about his next football destination.
The news, however, came as many were in between tracks.
And, Bell was immediately a big-time hit among the Jets and their fans.
“Welcome my brutha @LeVeonBell,” linebacker Avery Williamson tweeted.
“I’m in Miami brotha,” safety Jamal Adams tweeted at Bell. “We going up tonight!!!”
The deal gives Darnold and new coach Adam Gase a big-time playmaker, arguably the best player at his position before Bell opted to sit out all of last season rather than sign a franchise tender with Pittsburgh.
The 27-year-old Bell is a two-time AP All-Pro selection and three-time Pro Bowl pick who immediately upgrades the Jets’ backfield.
New York still has Isaiah Crowell, Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon, but Crowell is likely to be released after one season with the team. Bilal Powell, the team’s fourth-round pick in 2011, is a free agent and unlikely to be back.
Bell has rushed for 5,336 yards and 35 touchdowns, and has 312 catches for 2,660 yards and seven scores as one of the most versatile and dangerous offensive players in the NFL. His 128.9 yards from scrimmage per game over his career is the best mark in the NFL since the 1970 merger.
Bell’s career reached a crossroads, however, last year when he declined to sign his one-year, $14.4 million franchise tender with the Steelers and made himself ineligible to play. It was an unprecedented move as Bell – who received the franchise tag in two straight years – skipped a season in his prime to preserve his long-term health and secure a big payday.
Last month, Pittsburgh decided to not place the transition tag on Bell. That cleared the running back to become an unrestricted free agent when the NFL’s new year began Wednesday.
Two-year deal for Peterson
Washington has agreed to re-sign running back Adrian Peterson for two years and $8 million.
Peterson joined the Redskins on a one-year, veteran-minimum contract in August after rookie Derrius Guice tore the ACL in his left knee. Peterson rushed for 1,042 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 games at age 33 and now will combine with Guice and third-down back Chris Thompson in Washington’s backfield.
Bridgewater meets with Dolphins
Free-agent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater met Wednesday night with the Miami Dolphins to discuss playing for his hometown team, but his visit ended without a contract agreement.
Bridgewater, a Miami native, was the backup last season to New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. The Saints are hoping to re-sign him.
Jaguars cut Bortles
Jacksonville released quarterback Blake Bortles four hours after officially agreeing to terms with Nick Foles on Wednesday, the official start of free agency and two days after the sides settled on contract terms.
The Jags parted ways with the third overall pick in the 2014 draft just 13 months after handing him a three-year, $58 million contract.