Widely criticized for sitting out last season and overplaying his negotiating hand as he entered free agency, running back Le’Veon Bell claimed Thursday night he has no regrets, saying he landed “a beautiful deal” with the New York Jets.
The former Pittsburgh Steelers star signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract, including $25 million guaranteed at signing.
“I don’t regret anything that had happened,” Bell said on the conference call with reporters. “Everything’s happened for a reason. Who can say that if I played last year, you know, if I do go out and play last year on a one-year franchise tag, if I do get hurt, do I end up sitting in this position today, being with the New York Jets on a beautiful deal?”
Bell also suggested a heavy workload with the Steelers might have hurt his market value, saying, “Who’s to say a team would take me after 400 carries?”
He wouldn’t have faced that situation if he had accepted the Steelers’ long-term offer, a reported $70 million over five years. That proposal included $33 million in the first two years and $20.5 million guaranteed in the first year.
A review of Bell’s contract with the Jets shows he’ll be making less money that what he could have had in Pittsburgh. He will make $14.5 million in the first year, including an $8 million signing bonus. His two-year payout is $26 million. The three-year payout is $39.5 million, $5.5 million shy of what he would’ve made with the Steelers.
The market for Bell wasn’t as robust as many expected. In the end, it came down to the Jets and San Francisco 49ers. His $13.1 million-a-year average ranks second among running backs, behind Todd Gurley ($14.4 million).
Speaking publicly for the first time since the end of the season, Bell struck an upbeat tone, declining to comment on the Steelers and their recent trade of Antonio Brown. He said the year away from football has done wonders for his body.
“I’ve been playing football since the age of 4 years old, every single year,” he said. “The fact that I took last year off — it sucked having to watch football – but at the same time, from the end of December through January and February, it’s the best my body has ever felt in my life. There’s nothing that comes close or compares to how I feel, literally just resting and letting my body heal. … I’ve got so much built up in me that it’s time to let it go now.”
Bell, 27, wouldn’t say what he weighs, but he vowed to be in football shape by the start of the season.
He spoke highly of quarterback Sam Darnold, saying the quarterback’s potential factored into his decision. He wants to be Darnold’s “security blanket” on the field. Bell also complimented safety Jamal Adams for his nonstop recruiting.
“He was on my line constant, you know, pulling up, pulling me, texting me, tweeting me, Instagram, everything he could to get me here,” Bell said. “Just for him to reach out to me and things like that, it meant everything in the world to me, that someone wants me that much, that a team wants me that much. I’m glad to be here. He’s definitely a huge part. He made that happen. Got to give him a lot of credit.”
Bell said “all the stars kind of aligned to the Jets,” adding they were his favorite team growing up in Ohio. His favorite player was running back Curtis Martin, a Hall of Famer.
Bell laughed off a comment he made last year to TMZ, the one about how he wouldn’t take a $100 million to play for the Jets.
“That was just me being on Twitter and TMZ, talking,” he said. “That’s all that was. You know, I’m glad where I am. The situation I’m in right now, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”