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 morning, 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.
The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because teams can’t officially announce signings until the start of the new league year Wednesday afternoon.
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 begins Wednesday.
And the Jets pounced on a player they think can help Darnold take their offense to another level — despite the fact Bell hasn’t played since Pittsburgh’s playoff loss to Jacksonville on Jan. 14, 2018. That means it will be a span of 19 months in between game appearances by the time the preseason begins in August.
The Steelers drafted Bell with the 48th overall pick in 2013. He combined with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown to form Pittsburgh’s “Killer B’s” on offense, a potent trio of game-breaking talents.
With his patient running style and explosive burst, Bell quickly established himself as one of the best backs in the league. He was also a top pass-catcher out of the backfield, finishing 10th in the league with 85 catches in 2017. That combination of production had Bell focused on a contract that rewarded him like the dual threat he is.
He and the Steelers failed to reach an agreement on a new deal last summer, and he skipped training camp for the second straight year.
This time, though, he never returned to the team.
Instead, he’ll join the Jets and look to re-establish himself as arguably the best overall running back in the game — and try to help a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2010 season get back to winning.
The move to get Bell was the latest in a busy two days for general manager Mike Maccagnan and the Jets, who also have agreed to deals with linebacker C.J. Mosley, wide receivers Jamison Crowder and Josh Bellamy, and are re-signing defensive end Henry Anderson and backup cornerback Darryl Roberts. New York also acquired left guard Kelechi Osemele from Oakland over the weekend.
Odell Beckham Jr. is about to run a deep route out of New Jersey — straight to Cleveland.
The superstar wide receiver is bound for the Browns to be a target for quarterback Baker Mayfield as the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade, two people familiar with the deal told The Associated Press on Tuesday night.
The Browns are sending first- and third-round picks this year along with safety Jabrill Peppers to the Giants for Beckham, one of the NFL’s top players, said the people who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because league rules prohibit teams from announcing trades until 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The deal is conditional on both players passing physicals.
With the Browns, Beckham will be reunited with receiver Jarvis Landry, a close friend and teammate at LSU. He’ll also give Mayfield an elite weapon, and his arrival could vault the Browns, who went 7-8-1 last season after not winning a game in 2017, into legitimate championship contenders.
Rumors of a possible deal have swirled for weeks, with several Browns players teasing a major move by Cleveland general manager John Dorsey on social media. Dorsey pulled it off, bringing a major talent to accelerate his attempt to rebuild the Browns into consistent winners. Cleveland hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002.
The trade is the second major one involving a star wide receiver in four days as the Pittsburgh Steelers recently sent Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders.
While Beckham is immensely talented, there is some baggage as he can be temperamental and difficult. He was suspended for one game for his on-field battles with Carolina cornerback Josh Norman. He also comes off two injury-plagued years. Before last season, he became the league’s highest-paid receiver with a five-year, $90 million contract extension.
He played five seasons in New York, making the Pro Bowl in his first three. He was the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2014.
It’s the second trade completed in the past week by the Giants and Browns. Cleveland sent guard Kevin Zeitler to New York for edge rusher Olivier Vernon, who will now play on the opposite side of Pro Bowler Myles Garrett.
The Giants had been reluctant to trade Beckham, with GM Dave Gettleman insisting over the past few months that the club did not sign him to the historic deal in late August to trade him. But the Browns were persistent and Dorsey, who has remolded the Browns since coming to Cleveland at the end of 2017, came up with a package the Giants simply couldn’t resist.
“John Dorsey is officially a genius…” tweeted Browns defensive back Damarious Randall.
And now new Browns coach Freddie Kitchens has another playmaker for Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick last year who had a dazzling debut season in which he set the NFL record for touchdown passes by a rookie.
Kitchens will have to try to keep Beckham in check, something Giants coach Pat Shurmur struggled to do. Early last season, with the Giants off to another bad start, Beckham seemed upset with his role in Shurmur’s new offense and said quarterback Eli Manning was not capable of throwing deep passes.
Mayfield and Beckham are already tight; they spent part of last summer working out in California with Landry, who has been campaigning since he arrived in Cleveland for his former college teammate to join him.
When news of the agreement broke, Mayfield posted a photo on Twitter of him shaking hands with Beckham. “Movement” was the caption.
In the aftermath of Beckham’s shocking exit from New York, Browns wide receiver Breshad Perriman asked Cleveland to void his agreement on a one-year, $4 million contract. The Browns obliged and the sides mutually decided to cancel the deal struck earlier in the day.
Perriman, who revived his career with Cleveland last season, then agreed to sign a one-year package with Tampa Bay, a person with knowledge of the deal told AP.
Dorsey has had a busy offseason, signing troubled running back Kareem Hunt to a one-year contract, trading for Vernon and agreeing to a three-year, $39 million deal with defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
Landing Beckham is his signature move, a signal that he believes the Browns are on the verge of a Super Bowl run.
Many were expecting the Giants to take a step forward after going 5-11 in Shurmur’s first season. They were looking to improve their offensive line, get some pass rushers and shore up the defense, which struggled in coordinator James Bettcher’s switch to a 3-4 front.
In the past week, the next step has turned into a rebuild.
Vernon was dealt, and the team did not put a franchise tag on safety Landon Collins. Instead, the catalyst of the defense and leading tackler each of the last four seasons is about to sign with NFC East rival Washington.
With the trade of Beckham, the offense has lost its top playmaker, although one could argue the Giants started shifting that role to halfback Saquon Barkley last season. Barkley beat out Mayfield for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Complicating the situation: The Giants haven’t figured out their quarterback situation. Manning is 38 and the team has only made the playoffs once since winning the Super Bowl in February 2012.
But the Giants have three of the top 37 draft picks in April, and 12 overall. They have their eye on taking a franchise quarterback, perhaps Oklahoma Heisman Trophy Kyler Murray or Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins.
Peppers, who is from New Jersey, will help fill the void left by Collins’ departure. A first-round pick in 2017, he struggled as a rookie but bounced back and played well last season.