FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Le'Veon Bell's return to football hasn't included the big plays and eye-popping statistics that made him one of the most electrifying and productive players in the NFL.
The running back struggled — along with most of the rest of the offense — in his first season with the New York Jets. Still, Bell isn't necessarily looking to find a hole and run to another team in the offseason.
“I wouldn't have signed here for four years if I didn't want to be here four years,” he said Friday.
After sitting out last season in a contract dispute with Pittsburgh, Bell joined the Jets as a free agent last March on a $52.5 million contract that included about $35 million in guaranteed money. It was an aggressive and popular move by then-general manager Mike Maccagnan, who envisioned the running back being a dual-threat presence in Adam Gase's offense.
Thing is, there were reports that Gase balked at the Jets spending that much money for a running back. Then it took a while for Bell to get going, with spotty offensive line play and quarterback Sam Darnold missing three games with mononucleosis all contributing. Bell has rushed for 748 yards this season, and his 3.3 average per carry ranks as the lowest of his career.
“The hardest thing about going through Year 1," Gase said, “you're trying to learn not only players, coaches, just kind of what's the right fit for this group."
During the season, Bell approached Gase about using him more in the offense because he believed he could help win games with more touches. He has only had three games this season with 20 or more carries, and two have come in the last two games. Bell also has his two highest rushing totals in those, with 87 on 21 rushes at Baltimore two weeks ago and 72 yards on 25 carries against Pittsburgh last week.
“I think we started finding our rhythm kind of at the end of the year," said Bell, who has 61 catches for 425 yards. “We've still got to figure ourselves out. There were a lot of guys in and out of the offense, our offensive line was switching in and out. I'm a guy that is extremely patient, not just on the field. I understand it takes a while to build a stable program. I'm here for it. That's what I want to do.
“I'm not saying I'm ecstatic about it. I'm not saying I'm down about it. I understand it's a process, getting things going in the right direction. I think these last few weeks, Coach Gase has done a great job of utilizing me, putting the ball in my hands, so I'm not upset about it.”
But the 27-year-old Bell's future with the Jets is uncertain.
His name was mentioned in speculation during the trade deadline in October, and teams could make calls again in the offseason. That will be one of the decisions current general manager Joe Douglas will need to make over the next several months. Cutting him wouldn't appear to be in the plans because the Jets would have $17 million of dead money if they do.
“I'm here," Bell said. “The people upstairs will handle what they do upstairs. I just want to make sure I end this football season well, out on top."
Bell has preached patience all season and has often used the analogy of a ship sailing in the right direction.
"When I did sign here, I didn't expect us to go 16-0, you know what I'm saying?" Bell said. “I knew it would be a process. I understand everything."
Well, one thing has stumped Bell this year: He has been randomly selected for HGH blood testing as part of the NFL's drug program six times, by his count. He vowed in November he wouldn't submit to another test after the fifth, and he posted a photo on Twitter of the latest letter hanging at his locker.
After posting a response to the NFL that “I bet I don't" take it, Bell was vague about whether he took it before practice.
“I said what I said last time and we'll take it from there and cross that bridge when we've got to cross it,” Bell said. “It seems kind of odd. That's crazy, ain't it? I feel like they're trying to clone me or something."
Meanwhile, the Jets just need Bell to be the player they expected — and Gase needs to consistently put him in better position to contribute.
Bell's looking forward to that happening.
“Next year," Bell said, “I think is going to be fun."
NOTES: In what almost seemed a fitting end to a strange season, a fire alarm went off just as Gase was going through the injury report at the start of his daily news conference. Everyone evacuated the facility briefly before returning, and Gase resumed his news conference. ... G Tom Compton (calf) and G Alex Lewis (ankle) are both out vs. Buffalo. Conor McDermott and Brent Qvale will replace them on the starting O-line. ... S Jamal Adams was voted the team MVP by his teammates for the second straight season. “Yeah, nobody's surprised by that, I don't think," Gase said. “He's been our, not only probably our best player, but most consistent guy."