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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Why Le’Veon Bell left the Jets — and how they’re handling it

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At some point during training camp, Maurice Harkless predicted that running back Le’Veon Bell would end up back with the Jets.

Le’Veon Bell with the Jets a couple of years ago. Image by: Eric Gay/AP

“We felt like he was going to be a good fit,” said Harkless, who was a guard for the Jets the last two seasons before a season-ending shoulder injury, on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday morning. “We had a great relationship. He was always happy to see me, always happy to see my family, so I felt like he’d be a great fit here.”

Now, the Jets don’t see it that way. The team and Bell have decided to part ways after five seasons together.

It’s a surprising ending to a sometimes-cuddly relationship, but one of about equal duration. Bell has been at camp with the Lions after agreeing to a one-year, $14.5 million deal.

Like so many other contracts these days, the disagreement revolves around Bell’s desire to get the highest guaranteed money — $52.5 million over four years — but the Jets’ demands for a longer term seemed too steep.

Harkless made no secret that he viewed the Bell relationship as odd and conflicted, saying he wanted to be home in Jacksonville and didn’t believe Bell was a long-term fit.

“I was thinking about that when we got him,” Harkless said, “I was thinking about that when he left — was it all about money or was it about winning? I think it just kind of veered off on both sides.”

It’s a blow for the Jets, who hoped Bell would take the star-tagged route and double up on his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers, where he won a Super Bowl last season. But New York matched a franchise-player offer from Chicago — who, of course, now has his own big contract.

The low-budget Jets expected Sam Darnold to be their franchise quarterback, but instead stumbled to a 2-5 start behind Josh McCown. Harkless said he didn’t think the offseason loss of some experienced players made the Bell signing even more daunting.

“It’s going to be challenging with the guys we have — we’ve got many faces to the new offense — but we have some guys that can step up and help,” he said. “We still have Josh, we still have guys like Terrelle Pryor and Robby Anderson.”

The Jets also have Isaiah Crowell, who split time with Bell last season, and Bilal Powell, who is on his fifth team in six years.

Harkless acknowledged it’s been a tough start for a team trying to stave off the one-win scourge known as the 1-5 list.

“You know, sometimes it does make it tougher,” he said. “You kind of get used to it in the sense that, ya know, we’re losing and we know it’s going to take a lot of work to turn it around. But I think the players just have to stay positive, stay positive and stay optimistic.”

Bell is looking for a fresh start after a productive but injury-riddled past four seasons. In the Jets’ camp, he was asked about what would make him a perfect fit in New York.

“Being a dedicated player, just going out there and working hard,” he said. “I think that’s what New York is all about.

“Of course, we’re trying to win. But at the end of the day, you’re still going to be on a team that’s going to have a sense of professionalism. … You just need to come in with your mind set and be committed. We’re going to work hard, and when you come in here and you’re going to work, you’re not going to have any distractions. You’re just going to come out here and play hard. That’s what it’s about.”

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