FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Bell bottoms: Le'Veon Bell got paid, but money can't buy daylight.
The star running back is learning a hard lesson about life after Big Ben, AB, JuJu and that big 'ol Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line. Through no fault of his own, Bell is off to the worst statistical start of his pro career. He's the victim of a perfect storm: bad blocking, instability at quarterback and no consistent weapons on the perimeter.
As a result, his talent is not being maximized. You figured there would be growing pains in a new system, especially after a year off, but his numbers are alarming.
Bell has failed to reach 4.0 yards per carry in any of the Jets' five games, the longest such slump of his career. He hasn't made a run longer than 13 yards. There are 96 players in the league with runs longer than 13 yards, including 16 quarterbacks. He's the Jets' most accomplished offensive player, and yet they haven't been able to get him cranked up.
"Hopefully, we can open it up a little bit for him," Jets coach Adam Gase said. "We've seen a lot of loaded boxes. He's had a lot of tough runs. He's made the most out of what he's had and probably gotten us more than we should have."
Bell has faced a "loaded box" on a league-high 45.9 percent of his runs, according to NFL Next Gen Stats (minimum: 50 rushes). A loaded box is when the blockers are outnumbered by the defenders in the box.
In theory, quarterback Sam Darnold's return should loosen up the defense, creating more space for Bell. Statistically, there was no appreciable difference last week against the Dallas Cowboys, but one game doesn't make a trend.
It won't get easier on Monday at 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN), though. The New England Patriots (6-0) have the NFL's best defense and coach Bill Belichick, who called Bell "one of the best players in the league," will use his giant brain to scheme ways to stop him.
To his credit, Bell has remained upbeat, insisting, "We're getting better. I can sense it." The Jets (1-4) made him the centerpiece of their offseason spending spree, expecting his presence to raise the level of those around him, namely Darnold. They gave him $28 million in fully guaranteed money, defying the recent economic trend: You don't pay big money to running backs.
It's too soon to call it a bust because he's had only two games with Darnold, but the clock is ticking. Bell is 27 years old, meaning his window could close in a year or two. It might take that long for the Jets to sort out their offensive line issues.
2. Competition Friday: The Jets have incorporated a new twist into their Friday practices -- an 11-on-11 period that features the No. 1 offense versus the No. 1 defense. Most teams dial it back on Friday, but Gase has raised the intensity level.
"It's competitive stuff," tight end Ryan Griffin said. "You go all out and try to win. It sets the tone for Sunday."
The benefits? Players on both sides of the ball say it helps them prepare for the unexpected because the periods aren't scripted. It's an old-school approach, but it makes a lot of sense.
3. Money matters: The Jets, who began the offseason with about $100 million in salary-cap space, are down under $5 million, according to overthecap.com. A team can burn through money quickly, especially when it doles out top-of-the-market contracts in free agency (hello, Bell and C.J. Mosley). Injuries also are a factor. Guard Kelechi Osemele, linebacker Avery Williamson, wide receiver Quincy Enunwa and quarterback Trevor Siemian are eating up a combined $23 million in cap space. The latter three are on injured reserve, and Osemele (shoulder) could be there soon.
4. Patriot Games: There were some "there-they-go-again" comments in the Twitter-verse when the Patriots signed former Jets tight end Eric Tomlinson early in the week. Although I don't think it applies to this situation, the Patriots do have a reputation for signing players before they face the player's ex-team, ostensibly to gather intel on said team. But they haven't done it to the Jets as often as you might think.
Research reveals the Patriots did it before the first meeting in 2017 (tight end Will Tye) and before each meeting in 2013 (tight end Matt Mulligan and cornerback Marquice Cole). The all-timer happened in 2010, when they signed running back Danny Woodhead, who turned out to be a lot more than an info source.
In Tomlinson's case, the Patriots actually needed a tight end. And why would they have to pump him for info on the Jets after beating them only five weeks ago?
5. Giant Jets: Tackle Corbin Kaufusi, a new player on the practice squad, is listed at 6-foot-9. If he makes it to the active roster, he would be the franchise's tallest player in nearly 60 years.
Randy Lange of the Jets' official website did the research and came up with this list of big men: In 1960, the franchise's first year (when the team nickname was the Titans), they had a 6-foot-9 player named Joe Katchik.
Checking in at 6-foot-8 are Billy Shields (1985), Matt Willig (1994), Scott Gragg (2005), Anthony Clement (2006), Ropati Pitoitua (2009) and current player Conor McDermott.
6. Special reunion: Center Ryan Kalil and Patriots special-teams star Matthew Slater were rivals in college (USC and UCLA, respectively) and they're rivals again now, but there was a time when they were on the same side -- at Servite High School in Anaheim, California.
"I've stayed close with Matt over the years and there's not a better human being that I know than Matthew Slater," Kalil said on this week's "Flight Desk" podcast on ESPN. "Every time we catch up, it's a fun reflection of how far we've come and how quickly it all went by."
A side note: Slater's Hall-of-Fame dad, Jackie Slater, coached Kalil on the offensive line in high school.
7. Did you know? The Jets already have made seven in-season quarterback transactions involving four different players -- Siemian, Luke Falk, David Fales and Mike White. From 2015 to 2018, they made only two such transactions at the position, the most noteworthy being Davis Webb's promotion from the practice squad in 2018. Moral of the story: Crazy year, 2019.
8. Deep thoughts: During last week's visit to MetLife Stadium, where they were honored as members of the Jets' all-time team, Wesley Walker and Pat Leahy got into a conversation about the current offense. Leahy asked Walker if there's a home run hitter on the roster -- i.e. a Walker-like burner at wide receiver. Walker's response went something like this: Well, they have this guy Anderson, but they never throw him the ball.
Responding on cue, Anderson scored on a 92-yard reception, the second-longest offensive touchdown in Jets history. No one was happier than Walker, who believes Anderson is under-utilized as a deep threat.
"They don't use Robby Anderson that way, and it's baffling to me," said Walker, who has the longest offensive TD in team history -- a 96-yard catch in 1985. "I understand [the frustration] more than anybody."
Now that Darnold is back, Anderson will get more shots. Count on it, Wes.
9. Saucy Sam: Darnold's "unstoppable" quote could be considered presumptuous, considering the recent struggles of the offense, but you know what? I like it. They could use some bravado on that side of the ball.
10. The last word: "When I came up for my Ring of Honor [in 2017], it was toward the back end of the season and the team wasn't doing so well, and there weren't a whole lot of people in the stands. This will be a Monday night game and it's earlier in the year. The whole thing will be great. It's against the Patriots. I have a great deal of respect for Belichick and what he's done up there. It's kind of appropriate, considering it's against one of your division rivals." -- former Jets great Kevin Mawae, who will receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring in a halftime ceremony Monday night.