FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Coach Robert Saleh was certain the New York Jets were about to lose out on signing Dalvin Cook.
The then-free agent running back was visiting the team in July, with each side gauging the other's interest, when the Jets presented what seemed like a potential deal breaker.
“I feel like we put on a worst-case scenario,” Saleh recalled Saturday. “When he left, I was like, ’There’s no way he’s going to want to play here.'”
The Jets told Cook, who's coming off four straight seasons of at least 1,100 yards rushing in Minnesota, he could end up standing on the sideline a lot while other running backs played.
New York also has Breece Hall, Michael Carter and rookie Israel Abanikanda in the backfield, so carries could be tough to come by, especially if offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett rides the hot hand in games.
“And he still wanted to be here," Saleh said. "It was laid out exactly and I was like, ‘Why would he want to be here the way we explained it?’ But he was all in and it gives us faith that he’s all in on this process. He’s ready to do anything we need him to do in football games — whether it’s 25 carries, whether it’s one carry.
"Whatever it is, he’s ready to roll.”
Cook took a couple of weeks to consider his options before signing a one-year deal with the Jets worth $7 million, including $5.8 million guaranteed. It could be worth up to $8.6 million with incentives.
“He was like, ‘Coach, I just want to win,’” Saleh said. "When he left and his team still showed interest, I was like: ‘We should absolutely bring him in. He’s only going to help us.’ Since he’s walked in here, his smarts, his tutelage, his experience bringing to that running back room, he’s been fantastic.”
The 28-year-old Cook spent his first six NFL seasons with the Vikings, developing into one of the league's most productive running backs. The four-time Pro Bowl selection is third on Minnesota’s career rushing list with 5,993 yards but found himself without a job after being a salary cap cut in June.
With the Jets, Cook believes he'll have an opportunity to not only contribute but have a chance to win in the playoffs — especially with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback.
“I’m a part of a great group right now,” Cook said. “I’m looking forward to go win a bunch of games with these guys."
Cook will get his first chance Monday night when the Jets open the regular season against the AFC East-rival Buffalo Bills.
“I feel great, man,” Cook said. “It’s a great time to be alive. ... I'm ready to go have some fun.”
Speaking of which, the game against the Bills will mark the second time Cook faces his younger brother James — a second-year running back for Buffalo — in the NFL. Dalvin has early bragging rights in that competition after his Vikings beat the Bills 33-30 in overtime last season.
When Dalvin was still a free agent, there was some speculation he could join his brother in Buffalo. That was never an option in Dalvin’s mind, though.
“I’ll never get in my brother’s way,” he said of his James, who is five years younger and ran for 507 yards and two TDs as a rookie. “They didn’t give him the touches he needed last year, so for me to even think about signing over there was getting in his way.”
Cook, who had offseason shoulder surgery, completed a full week of practice after being eased in following training camp while he learned the offense and was away a few days to witness the birth of his first child.
“To now get him out on the field and watch his work ethic has been something great to see,” Hackett said. "It's great for all of the guys, just even his warmups.”
Hall, who's healthy after coming off a knee injury that cut short his promising rookie season, is excited about teaming with Cook to provide the Jets with a formidable 1-2 punch out of the backfield.
“Oh, we're probably going to be the best duo in the league,” Hall declared.
How Cook, Hall and the other running backs are used remains to be seen, as Saleh alluded to in their initial meeting with Cook.
But Cook refuses to get caught up in any potential numbers.
“I expect the same thing every year: Be productive,” he said. “I ain't worried about carries and all that. I’m trying to go win a football game and have some fun.”
NOTES: Hall, LT Duane Brown (shoulder) and RT Mekhi Becton (knee/illness) were full practice participants for the first time this week. They're listed as questionable but are all expected to play. ... CB Michael Carter II (elbow) also fully practiced and had no game status designation, so he'll play.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Dennis Waszak Jr., The Associated Press