2020 NFL Preview: Le'Veon Bell, Jamal Adams debacles highlight the dysfunction of the Jets

Yahoo Sports is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per weekday in reverse order of our initial 2020 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 5.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Paul Rosales)

The two most talented players on the New York Jets roster are probably running back Le’Veon Bell and safety Jamal Adams.

The Jets are stuck with the former though it’s clear they don’t value him, and have alienated the latter to the point he’s openly campaigning for a trade to the Dallas Cowboys.

The plights of Bell and Adams aren’t why the Jets are bad. They’re just symptoms of an organization that consistently can’t get out of its own way.

Since losing the AFC championship game at the end of the 2010 season, the Jets have not made the playoffs and have posted just one winning record. A 7-9 mark last season and third-place finish in the AFC East actually was progress. It snapped a streak of three straight double-digit loss seasons and last-place finishes.

There was some reason for optimism late. The Jets went 6-2 after a 1-7 start. The poor start can be blamed in part to quarterback Sam Darnold coming down with mononucleosis. The Jets were hammered with injuries, finishing as the most injured team in the NFL by a large margin according to Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost metric. The late surge came with some close wins and against a soft schedule, but it’s a good finish nonetheless.

Still, plenty of the offseason was spent on two topics: coach Adam Gase and his usage of Bell, and Adams wanting out.

• In the Jets’ finale against the Buffalo Bills, in which neither team led by more than 7 points for almost the entire game, they did not give Bell the ball once over a 19-play stretch in the second half that covered four drives.

That summed up Bell’s first Jets season. Not long after Bell was signed, it was leaked that Gase didn’t think he was worth the four-year, $52.5 million deal the Jets signed him to. Then Bell had a bad season. Was that due to rust from a year off, the weird refusal to give him a full workload or Gase’s inability to properly deploy one of the most talented backs in the NFL?

Whatever the reason, Gase’s non-answer when asked if he wanted Bell as his 2020 starting running back spoke volumes.

"He's under contract for three more years ... you can ask Joe [Douglas, Jets’ GM] tomorrow," Gase said at his season-ending news conference.

Bell is still around, probably because he’s untradeable now.

By all accounts Bell has taken the high road at every opportunity since signing with the Jets. It seems his coach is stubbornly hanging onto his displeasure with the contract — Gase also threw a temper tantrum at the 2019 NFL draft, purposely sitting off camera in the draft room as he warred with then-GM Mike Maccagnan — rather than doing what’s best for the offense.

• The Adams relationship started to sour when the Jets talked to teams about the star safety at last season’s trade deadline, leading Adams to feel he had been lied to.

Douglas tried smoothing that over in February, saying he wanted Adams to be “a Jet for life.” But a new deal didn’t come right away, as the Jets reportedly want to wait to extend him because Adams has two years left on his rookie deal. Adams requested a trade in June. A report by the New York Daily News said a reason Adams wants to be traded is he doesn’t want to play for Gase anymore.

While the Jets might have concerns about how the salary cap will look in 2021 and beyond given the coronavirus pandemic, they don’t have many good players to pay and Adams is their best one. He is a two-time Pro Bowler, an All-Pro last year and just 24 years old. And the Jets are basically running him out of town because they want to pay him next year and not this year. The Jets might make their point, but it could be at the expense of losing one of the NFL’s best players.

Of course, winning would make everyone forget the sideshows. Gase probably needs a big season, after years of bad offensive football and a rough start with the Jets. The first step toward a positive season is the development of Darnold, who has shown flashes through two seasons but hasn’t done enough to convince everyone he can be a long-term answer.

The Jets have a long way to go. Some good news this season would be nice.

Jets coach Adam Gase and running back Le'Veon Bell didn't work out well in Bell's first year in New York. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

The Jets were conservative for once. Most of their deals were for one year, to players who weren’t that expensive. The draft was graded well by most experts. The Jets took massive offensive tackle Mekhi Becton in the first round and got good value on receiver Denzel Mims in the second round. Most of free agency was spent rebuilding the offensive line. Former Seattle Seahawks tackle George Fant and former Denver Broncos center Connor McGovern will step right into the lineup. Signing Breshad Perriman to replace Robby Anderson might work out, but maybe it would have been more prudent to match the two-year, $20 million deal Anderson got with the Carolina Panthers (Anderson insisted he wanted to stay in New York). The Jets didn’t do much at cornerback, just signing Pierre Desir after the Colts cut him, and they never really addressed a need at edge rusher. But it was a solid offseason.

GRADE: B-

The Jets were hoping Sam Darnold would fix decades of quarterback problems, but he hasn’t yet. He also had mononucleosis last season and it’s hard to say how much that set him back. Darnold was also working with a supporting cast that wasn’t very good, and a coach in Gase who becomes more suspect each year. Darnold wasn’t electrifying last season, but he has talent. Darnold still misses too many passes and turns the ball over too much, and his accuracy on deep throws hasn’t been very good. His third season could determine if the Jets have a franchise quarterback, or if they’ll need to start over — at quarterback and perhaps with a new coach, too.

We spoke at length about Jamal Adams and Le’Veon Bell, so let’s take a look at defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. Williams was considered a slam-dunk pick in 2019 when he fell to the Jets at No. 3 overall. Williams didn’t do much as a rookie: 28 tackles, 2.5 sacks. In Pro Football Focus’ grades last season, Williams ranked 37th of 59 defensive tackles to log at least 500 snaps. There wasn’t a lot of impact from a player the Jets have high hopes for. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said Williams had a severe ankle sprain early in the season, and that could have been a factor. It’s too early to make any declarative statement on Williams, but the Jets would like to see more this season.

The Jets’ over/under win total at BetMGM is 6.5. I don’t think that line is way off, but the under seems like the better play. When there are questions about the coach, quarterback and whether the best player on the roster will be traded before the season starts, it’s hard to take the over.

From Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski: “Some will give Le’Veon Bell a pass for his awful 2019 season; he was obviously rusty, and the Jets offensive line was below average. That established, Bell did average a paltry 3.2 YPC, and his longest run was just 19 yards. And Adam Gase offenses have struggled to punch in rushing touchdowns; Gase tends to funnel the scoring through the passing game. 

“Once a running back’s career starts to slide, I don’t like betting on a rebound — not as Bell enters his seventh NFL season [we won’t count 2018 against him]. Gravity eventually wins in these things, and most of the key fantasy backs are on their first pro contract. There’s something about the Bell/Gase marriage that I don’t want to invest in; if I’m looking for a fifth-round running back, I prefer James Conner to Bell.”

[Create or join a 2020 Yahoo Fantasy Football League for free today] 

The Jets had the fifth-easiest schedule last season according to Football Outsiders. This year the Jets have the third-hardest schedule according to SharpFootballStats.com, which uses over/under win totals from sportsbooks to project schedule strength. That’s by far the biggest shift in the NFL this year. The Jets got hot last year against some bad opponents, but there won’t be many easy weeks this season.

Does Sam Darnold have enough around him?

It will take a while to build a good offense around Darnold. The Jets hope the offense is good enough this season to get a fair look at their third-year quarterback.

The offensive line was really bad last season. Center Connor McGovern, and tackles Mekhi Becton and George Fant should be upgrades, even if there are questions about Fant and Becton is a rookie. It still isn’t likely to be an above-average line.

Receiver is a question too. A lot rides on Breshad Perriman. Perriman, a former first-round pick, had the best stretch of his career in the final five weeks last season, posting a 25-506-5 line for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That’s impressive, but is that his new level or just a hot streak? Tight end Chris Herndon, whose 2019 season was mostly wiped out due to suspension and injury, could help. Slot receiver Jamison Crowder is one of the best at his position and rookie Denzel Mims has talent, but overall the support group for Darnold isn’t very good.

A 6-2 finish to a season is impressive, no matter the opponents.

“Going 6-2, that’s not luck. You don’t do that,” Jets GM Joe Douglas said, via the New York Post. “It takes a group of guys that became galvanized and stuck together. … The plan moving forward is that is a launchpad for us.”

Perhaps. It would probably take a big step from Sam Darnold, better usage of Le’Veon Bell, continued improvement from Breshad Perriman, a much better offensive line, Jamal Adams playing and doing so at a high level, a pass rush from somewhere and at least adequate cornerback play. Against one of the hardest schedules in the NFL. That’s a lot to ask, but maybe the second half of last season was a sign of things to come.

As with many teams near the bottom of the NFL with young quarterbacks, getting a positive answer at that position is the most important thing, even more important than a pipe dream of a playoff run. That’s the case with the Jets. While we can look at the best of Sam Darnold and make excuses for why he has been just decent through two seasons, he has to produce some results and soon. He clearly has talent. We have seen that since he was at USC. But the worst-case scenario for the Jets isn’t a losing record or even Adam Gase getting fired (some Jets fans would welcome that), it’s if they finish the season stuck knowing Darnold isn’t the long-awaited answer at quarterback.

The last time Adam Gase truly looked like a genius was 2013-14 with the Denver Broncos. He was coaching Peyton Manning and it’s no surprise Manning was a bigger part of that success than Gase. In short, I don’t trust the Jets coach. Perhaps this is the year his quarterback stays healthy and he delivers some results, but until then I’ll be skeptical. I think the Jets will finish in last place, and then big changes will come. Hopefully with less dysfunction going forward.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars
31. 
Washington Redskins
30. 
Cincinnati Bengals
29. 
Carolina Panthers
28. 
New York Giants
27. 
Detroit Lions
26. 
New York Jets
25. 
Atlanta Falcons
24. 
Miami Dolphins
23.
Las Vegas Raiders
22.
Los Angeles Chargers
21.
Houston Texans