Friday, May 18, 2012
Bell doesn't toll for Leonhard
By Rich Cimini
The Yeremiah Bell signing (one year, $1.4 million) creates more questions than answers. For instance:
1. What does this mean for Jim Leonhard? Obviously, it doesn't bode well for his chances of returning. The Jets have three veteran safeties (Eric Smith, LaRon Landry and Bell) and three kids (Tracy Wilson, Josh Bush and Antonio Allen), so let's be real here. Barring injury, it looks like the popular Leonhard, a UFA recovering from knee surgery, has been squeezed out. And that's too bad, because we all know what he has meant to the defense.
2. Does the Bell signing mean the Jets are concerned about Landry's health? Yes. Landry, whom the Jets signed to a one-year, $3.5 million contract in March, still is rehabbing an Achilles tendon injury from last season (no surgery). He hasn't been participating on the field during voluntary workouts, although that isn't a surprise. When the Jets signed him, GM Mike Tannenbaum admitted it would be "a challenge" to get Landry ready for the regular-season opener. They expect it to happen, but they have their fingers crossed. Bell gives them a veteran insurance policy, a pro's pro who knows the division. That they gave the ex-Dolphin almost twice the veterans' minimum, guaranteeing $1.3 million, indicates the sense of urgency.
3. Does Bell address the coverage issues at safety? No way. Bell, 34, wasn't known for his pass coverage when he was young, and he's certainly not going to excel now that he's at the end of his career. An opposing personnel executive described Bell this way: "They, in essence, have the same guy (in Landry). They're two strong safeties. (Bell) is a good run supporter, but somewhat of a liability on the back end. He'll have trouble against (Rob) Gronkowski and (Aaron) Hernandez . ,.. I don't see where the Jets have upgraded in coverage at safety. The run support is good, but they added two strong safeties and Eric Smith hasn't changed."
UPDATE: Following up on the New York Post's story on the Bell signing, I can confirm that the Jets envision Bell and Landry as their starting safeties, with Smith -- a 2011 starter -- coming off the bench. This is interesting. Basically, the Jets intend to play with two strong safeties. It will help the run defense, but it will leave them vulnerable in pass coverage.