When the New York Jets signed safety Yeremiah Bell I honestly thought Bell would be best suited as a backup. However, that might not be the case. There is a good chance the Jets signed him to be a starter and this would be a terrible move.
Early in the offseason, the Jets signed safety LaRon Landry to a one-year, $4 million contract, presumably to replace Jim Leonhard who went down with his second consecutive season-ending injury last season. Then, the Jets signed Bell to a one-year, $1.4 million contract this past week.
There is no doubt the Jets needed to add some bodies to their safety corps after injuries caused a breakdown in that unit the last couple of years. However, Bell and Landry are very similar players in many respects. Neither plays the pass particularly well, especially when asked to cover the faster tight ends in the league, of which two of the best reside in their division in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots. Both are very good safeties but in man-to-man coverage I wouldn’t expect much from them. Both are very good tacklers and are extremely useful in run support and both will make a wide receiver pay for trying to go over the middle at times. Both Landry and Bell can also get to the quarterback on the blitz as well. However, both of them are new to this defense and it might take a while for them to adjust.
What made Jim Leonhard so valuable was his ability to quarterback the secondary, pointing out assignments and moving players around like Bobby Fischer moving pieces on a chess board. Leonhard won’t be there this year and if the Jets go into this season with two new additions starting at safety there could be problems.
Even the most talented players sometimes have trouble fitting into new systems. Look at Nnamdi Asomugha and the Philadelphia Eagles last season as an example of how tough it can be at times. Asking two players, new to a system, to suddenly become leaders within that system might be asking too much. Eric Smith, while not exactly one of the best safeties in football, is at least experienced in Rex Ryan’s system. Ryan’s defense is not an easy one to grasp. There are several different blitz packages and coverage types to cover those blitzes. It will take time for any player to learn them.
In my opinion, the Jets would be better off keeping Bell as the third safety. Landry and Smith should be the starters with Bell ready to step in if needed. Don’t get me wrong, Bell is a fine player, especially in run support, but his game is not without weaknesses. He has trouble with faster tight ends and, at 34 years-old, he is not the same player he was two or three years ago.
The Jets got themselves a good player, there is no denying that. However, I don’t think it would be the best move to have two starting safeties that have never operated in this defense before, especially when the safety is asked to play such a key role in setting the secondary up. Maybe Bell and Landry will be up to the task. Maybe they won’t be. After last season, the Jets need someone back there who is cerebral and knows the defense as well as can play. That best option, in my opinion, is Eric Smith right now.