Patriots proven to have dodged a bullet not signing top free agent

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets
Miami Dolphins v New York Jets / Perry Knotts/GettyImages

During the 2023 offseason, there was a heavy focus on two free agent running backs that many teams were pining for. The Cowboys had released Ezekiel Elliott after seven seasons, instantly making him one of the most desirable players available. Then, the Vikings added Dalvin Cook into the mix when they moved on from him a few months later.

It became a close competition among a handful of teams looking to bolster their backfield with a high-performing running back, with the Patriots being one of them. They were reportedly in on both Cook and Elliott, hoping to add one of them to pair up with Rhamondre Stevenson as they continued to prioritize the run game on offense.

However, rumors suggested every team in the AFC East was trying to sign them, too, and eventually, Cook was the first to be picked up when he signed with the Jets.

He was the preferred player for most Patriots fans, as many felt Elliott was beginning to decline along with his decreasing production. Cook was coming off a fourth straight season of 1,000+ rushing yards while averaging 350 receiving yards per season.

Cook seemed like he would be a great fit to play alongside Stevenson, but that wasn't a choice anymore and the Patriots instead won the battle for Elliott and signed him to a one year contract.

Patriots proven to have dodged a bullet not signing top free agent

The new running back duo hit it off immediately and looked primed to be the best pairing in the National Football League. The roles were clear, with Stevenson remaining as the RB1 and Elliott being used in wildly different capacity than he was used to.

Unfortunately, due to the problematic performance from the offensive line all season long and unreliable play from the quarterbacks, Elliott didn't explode on the field in the way the Patriots had hoped, even after Stevenson went down with an injury to end the year.

Although that wasn't favorable, he fared much better than the Jets did with Cook. The talented running back was never fully implemented into their game plan, recording just 67 carries for 214 yards and averaging 3.2 yards per attempt, all of which were career lows.

By the end of Week 17, the Jets decided to release Cook before the final game.

After going unclaimed, he signed with the Ravens and played in the playoffs but never made a big impact. Now, he is looking for a new team to sign with for the 2024 season, claiming he's "weighing his options" before making the decision.

Given what transpired for Cook over the last year, it seems fair to proclaim the Patriots dodged a bullet by not signing him. Despite the underwhelming tenure of Elliott in New England, he still recorded 184 carries for 642 yards and three touchdowns plus 51 receptions for 313 yards and two scores.

At times, he was exactly what the struggling offense needed and was reliable, even if he wasn't exciting. The same couldn't be said about Cook's time with New York, so this is another example of the Patriots winning with their free agency decision that wasn't initially met with approval.

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