Signing on the dotted line can mean different things at different times to different people. It can be as simple as in signing to buy groceries or get one's car repaired or a little more serious as in signing one's tax forms or a home loan.
Or it can be as important as signing that next big-money NFL contract, to keep playing for one's current team or to change gears and start playing for another team.
Funny how Bilal Powell decided that whenever he became a free agent, he never wanted to sign off from the Jets.
"I had a couple of opportunities to leave, to go play for some Super Bowl-contending and playoff-contending teams," Powell reflected with newyorkjets.com's Eric Allen the day before he signed his one-day deal to retire as a Jet. "I remember one year, two of the teams that wanted me in free agency ended up playing each other in the Super Bowl.
"I just always chose to come back to New York because I always wanted to see the trophy come back here again. It was a thing for me, deep down, when I signed my name on that contract to become a New York Jet, that I wanted to stay a New York Jet, and that was for me personally. I always wanted to see the trophy come back, not only for myself, but for the Jets fan base. I knew if we could just get that thing back, that atmosphere in that stadium, the culture in that stadium, is insane. I just always wanted to see that trophy back here."
Powell never got to do that, never even got to play in a playoff game as a Jets RB from his first day in the pros till his last. But he got a taste of the postseason in 2015, when the Jets played at Buffalo in the regular-season finale needing a win to get into the AFC playoff grid. Instead, they lost 22-17.
"I go back a lot," he said. "I just knew if we would've gotten in, we would've run the table. I think we were that late-season team that nobody wanted to play. If we would've just gotten into the playoffs, I think we would've had a chance at running the table."
Some fans might say Powell is being a pigskin Pollyanna with that thought, but no matter. Many more fans grew to enjoy his nine-year career in green and white, to embrace No. 29. They were disappointed the Jets didn't make it to the playoffs, but once that was said, they got great satisfaction out of Powell's relentless game, his impressive numbers, his emerging attitude. And he reflected that great satisfaction back on his followers.
"It's not easy being a fan favorite in New York — there's some tough fans out there," Powell said. "But once they love you, they love you. It's one of the funnest teams and cities to play the game of football in. That fan base on gameday, it's something you just have to experience for yourself. ... Once the fans love you, it's like OK, I'm established. I think I never really tried to focus on that. But being who I was and staying consistent in who I was, I think that grew on the fans."
Who Powell came to be was much different than who he was growing up in Lakeland, FL. He shared his harrowing upbringing with Allen in a riveting story in 2017 and he summarized that upbringing during this interview when asked what he would tell a young Bilal about deciding to get on a successful career path, in football or in any other endeavor.
"Just seeing what the organization is doing for me now means a lot to me," he said. "But just looking back on myself and some of the obstacles I had to overcome throughout my life, I didn't think I'd be here. If I had the opportunity now to talk to that young man growing up, I'd tell him there's always a decision that's going to change the outcome of the rest of your life.
"I was blessed to overcome some of those decisions that I made to get here and to be a professional, to beat the odds. ... For me it was just a different focus that I had to go into, a huge decision that I had to make in high school to get a different focus, to become a part of that one percent in the entire world."
Nevertheless, the time has flown from the day Powell signed his first Jets contract as the team's 2011 fourth-round draft choice, and even from the time he played his last game, the 2019 season finale, also at Buffalo but this one at least a 13-6 win. He's now moved into his "second career," doing custom home building in Louisville, KY, with his wife, Jessica, a real estate agent and interior decorator, and on to his "next football job," serving as the head coach of his son's sixth-grade football team.
Yet he still goes back a lot. He savors 2015, followed by the '16 season that he called "one of my finest times here in New York." He is proud of being recognized as one of the best backs in franchise history, and of being offered another football opportunity, to sign that last, symbolic, contract to end his playing career as a member of the Green & White.
"Man, it's going to take me all the way back," Powell said of putting ink on that dotted line, "to the time when there were people who probably didn't believe in me. You don't think about the future at that time. Now, you think about all the moments, the memories. You miss certain things about it, right? And to know that this chapter of my life is closure for me and to understand I'm a Jet for life, I don't think too many guys can say that that came through and played this game."