LANDOVER, Md. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Bell not ringing up yards: Statistically, Le’Veon Bell is having the worst season of his career (not even close), and there’s little hope for improvement because the offensive line is a mess and it looks as if the star running back has lost a half-step. He’s still a good player, but he’s a luxury item for a team in transition. That’s why I believe they will look to part ways with him in the offseason.
The question is, how?
Bell’s $13 million in 2020 is fully guaranteed ($8 million in salary, plus $5 million in bonuses), and no team in its right mind will trade for a 28-year-old running back — coming off a down season — with that kind of price tag. His contract is the reason why teams backed off at the recent trading deadline. If the Jets are truly motivated to move him, they will have to pull off a Jadeveon Clowney-type deal: They will have to eat part of his salary, as the Houston Texans did when they traded Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Jets can’t cut Bell because the 2020 cap hit would go from his current $15.5 million to $19 million.
It’s unfair to criticize Bell because of the line issues, but let’s be honest: He has left some yards on the field. He’s not a great fit in a zone-blocking scheme because he can’t plant and make the quick, upfield cut. His average speed at the line of scrimmage is 8.25 mph, according to NFL Next Gen Stats — which ranks 25th out of 26 running backs with at least 100 carries. The New York Giants recognized this last week, and used a scheme that basically dared him to run outside.
Now Bell is dealing with a sore knee and sore ribs, which have affected his blocking. Coach Adam Gase would be wise to give Bilal Powell, quicker to the hole than Bell, a few more chances.
“I know the type of player I am and what I bring to the table,” said Bell, who has maintained a positive outlook despite only 449 yards and a career-low 3.1 yards per carry.
Mark my words, this will be a big offseason story.
Stephen A. Smith says he’d get rid of both Jets coach Adam Gase and Giants coach Pat Shurmur before Christmas.
2. Red flags: The Quincy Enunwa situation is multilayered. You feel for Enunwa because he’s battling a career-threatening neck injury, but he messed up by skipping two mandatory rehab sessions. He’s on injured reserve, but he’s still an employee of the Jets and his job right now is to get healthy. So the Jets gave him a max fine of $27,900 for his first two missed treatments.
At the same time, the Jets could have handled it better from a communications standpoint. Enunwa, looking for an explanation, went to receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, who sent him to Gase, who sent him to general manager Joe Douglas. He felt as if he was getting the runaround. Enunwa was fuming and so were some of his teammates, which prompted him to fire off several angry tweets.
The Enunwa controversy is symptomatic of a bigger issue, as he became the third player in a month to criticize the organization on social media (see: Jamal Adams and Kelechi Osemele). Player-management disagreements happen all the time in professional sports, but they usually stay in-house. When players go public, it usually indicates a crack in the chain of command. It doesn’t happen on a tight ship.
Douglas is a first-time GM, learning on the fly, but Gase is an experienced coach and should be adept at handling non-football matters. Enunwa was upset with the non-response from Gase, a source said. Adams was angry for a week before exchanging olive branches with Gase and Douglas. Osemele was simply sent packing.
This is a slippery slope for the Jets. Under previous coach Todd Bowles, they were criticized for being too loose. Gase is trying to improve the culture by holding players accountable, but the message seems to be getting lost in translation.
3. Disappearing wideout: Robby Anderson came into the season — a contract year — with huge expectations. In the offseason, he said his goal was to be a top 5 wide receiver. At his current rate, he might not be a top 5 receiver on the Jets by the end of the season. With only 24 catches and one touchdown, he’s costing himself free-agent money.
The easy explanation is to say Anderson’s deep speed is going to waste because of the pass-protection issues, but that’s not the whole story. He’s drawing more coverage since his 92-yard touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys. He’s also seeing a lot more press coverage than last season, from 24.8% of his routes to 45.5%, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. If Anderson wants to be a No. 1 receiver, he has to figure out a way to win at the line of scrimmage.
4. Early scouting: You can bet Jets brass will have an eye on Washington Redskins guard Brandon Scherff on Sunday at FedEx Field (1 p.m. ET, Fox). Scherff, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, will be a 28-year-old free agent after the season. In case you haven’t heard, the Jets are planning to overhaul their offensive line.
Douglas will hang a “Help Wanted” sign. Tackles Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell, guard Alex Lewis and center Ryan Kalil will be free agents; there’s a good chance all four will move on. Guard Brian Winters (injured reserve) could be a cap casualty, meaning the only key holdovers will be center Jonotthan Harrison and tackle Chuma Edoga.
5. Old Man Winters: Taped to the carpet in front of Winters’ locker is the word, “POPS.” No, he’s not the oldest offensive lineman on the team, but he’s the longest-tenured and probably the most respected because of his toughness. He dislocated his shoulder in the preseason but refused surgery and was ready for opening day. He played in pain, not missing a single snap until last Sunday. He dislocated the shoulder again, this time landing on IR.
His season is over, maybe his Jets career. The news hit hard in the locker room. As Harrison said, “A lot of guys try to mimic his play style, which increases our level of toughness. So that’s definitely going to be missed.”
A few weeks ago, Winters sat quietly at his locker as a crowd of reporters surrounded Osemele, who detailed his shoulder injury and ripped the organization for refusing to authorize surgery. Winters, his own shoulder aching, heard Osemele’s rant. I watched him closely to see if he had a reaction — a roll of the eyes, a shrug of the shoulder, anything.
There was nothing. He just minded his business. As usual.
6. Reading tea leaves: The biggest non-Gase takeaway from Christopher Johnson’s nine-minute Q&A with reporters was how he punted on the Adams issue. He said all the right things, calling Adams a cornerstone player, but he passed the buck to Adams and Douglas, in that order, on whether his long-term future is with the Jets.
The Jets can control Adams through 2021 (2022, if you count the franchise tag), so the response should’ve been, “He’s under contract.” This tells me they’re bracing for a showdown in the offseason, one that could result in a trade. Prediction: Adams tries to become the highest-paid safety. If he pushes the envelope, it will force the front office to make a decision: Re-up or sell him to the highest bidder.
7. Austin power: How can you not love the Blessuan Austin story? The rookie cornerback made his NFL debut last Sunday, his first football game in 436 days. The former Rutgers player blew out his ACL in 2017 and again in 2018, but he showed enough potential to get drafted in the sixth round.
Before last week’s game, Austin chatted with one of his mentors, Henry Baker, the Giants’ assistant defensive backs coach. He was Austin’s position coach at Rutgers for the first ACL injury, making it a full-circle moment.
“He was there when I found out the news the first time,” Austin said. “I was crying, shedding tears. He came to my off-campus apartment and he was basically taking care of me.”
Austin, who wound up replacing the ineffective Nate Hairston, texted Baker a “winky” emoji after the game. This Austin kid has some moxie; it’ll be interesting to watch his development. Look for him to start Sunday. Hairston could be inactive.
8. The last word: “I was patterning myself after Jamal.” — Jamal Adams on whether he was “patterning” himself after former Pittsburgh Steelers great Troy Polamalu on his leap-over-the-line tackle last week on quarterback Daniel Jones.