CINCINNATI -- The Le'Veon Bell Plan seemed credible at the time. After all, the New York Jets needed a dynamic playmaker for their woefully pedestrian offense, and quarterback Sam Darnold needed a weapon in the backfield to help reduce the pressure on him.
With four weeks left in another lost season, The Plan needs to be revised -- junked, actually. The Jets expected Bell to improve everyone around him, but they got it backward by screwing up the offensive line. As a result, the people around Bell have brought him down to a point where coach Adam Gase -- not exactly a fan of the Bell signing in March -- seems to have lost faith in him.
The latest example occurred in Sunday's loss for the (dark) ages, a 22-6 clunker to the previously winless Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. With a chance to establish a physical tone against the league's lowest-rated run defense, Gase called Bell's number only five times in the first half -- five times out of 37 offensive plays. With a chance to use Bell's receiving skills in the second half as the Jets played catch-up, Gase deployed him on only three plays as a wide receiver. All told, he caught four passes for 35 yards, all out of the backfield.
So let's play multiple choice. The Jets have a $13 million-a-year running back and they:
A. Don't know how to use him properly.
B. Don't believe he's the player he once was.
C. Still think he's an OK player but can't get him untracked because of the offensive line woes.
It's probably a combination platter, a little of each. No matter how you divide the cause, the indisputable fact is this: It's not working. When Jets general manager Joe Douglas sits down in the offseason to hatch his own plan -- as opposed to the plan cooked up by his predecessor, Mike Maccagnan -- he must resolve the Bell issue before he moves forward to the other items on his to-do list.
In 2020, the Jets will have a 28-year-old running back with a $13.5 million salary (fully guaranteed), behind an offensive line that might not be Bell-worthy until 2021. They must decide if they will be better off trading Bell (and probably eating some of his salary) and reinvesting in other positions. Simply put, Bell is a "now" player on a "tomorrow" team. And his hunt-and-peck running style isn't a fit because of the blocking struggles.
Douglas will overhaul the offensive line, count on it. There could be four new starters in 2020, including none from the 2019 Week 1 lineup. It will take time to make it good again, and Bell doesn't have much time, based on the short shelf life for his position. Douglas is a meat-and-potatoes football guy who recognizes the importance of line play, and it would be disappointing if he makes the same mistake as Maccagnan.
You have to build the engine before you can race a sports car.
Gase kept his car in the garage and didn't have a plausible explanation as to why.
"That's just how the game was going," he said, responding to a question about the pass-heavy approach in the first half.
The Bengals' defensive ranking actually was misleading because they ranked 14th in yards per rush from Week 8 through Week 12. So no, they weren't the pushovers everyone said they were, but they weren't the '85 Bears either. That Bell finished the game with only 10 carries for 32 yards spoke volumes, and it comes back to Gase's lack of trust in his running game -- i.e. Bell.
Afterward, Bell was so frustrated you could almost see his jaw clenched. His answers were clipped.
"We didn't execute," he said.
Are you surprised the offense was so pass-happy in the first half?
"No, I'm not surprised, no," he said.
It went on from there, with Bell doing a fantastic job of suppressing his emotions. It was quite a performance. Deep down, he had to be boiling. After 12 games, he has only 589 rushing yards, a 3.2 average and three touchdowns. This isn't what he signed up for. This isn't what the Jets signed up for.
It's time to explore the possibility of an amicable separation.