It wasn’t that long ago. The Jets had just hired Adam Gase, they had a GM in Mike Maccagnan with deep pockets, and they wanted to make splashes — plural — in free agency.
The first was supposed to be linebacker Anthony Barr, until he broke his verbal agreement to return to Minnesota. Then came C.J. Mosley, but only after the Jets offered him so much money even the Ravens told him to take it. Finally, there was Le’Veon Bell, who used Gang Green against themselves to drive up the price.
It was the Jets Tax — the only way to get noteworthy players to come to Florham Park.
What an alien concept nowadays.
The Jets are suddenly a team players want to play for, the latest being Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook, who signed with New York on Monday.
Call it the Jets tax return.
There’s no doubt this doesn’t all happen if not for Aaron Rodgers’ arrival, but this culture rebrand was a long time coming. Joe Douglas began the tall task when he replaced Maccagnan after that ill-advised offseason. He replaced Gase with Robert Saleh after two years.
Douglas still had to overpay for the guys he wanted — Gotham City wasn’t built in a day, but every addition brought New York a little closer to where they wanted to be.
Then came this year and Rodgers, whose words on the Pat McAfee Show completed the Jets’ turnaround. Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman and others followed suite. Now you have Cook, who picked the Jets over teams like the Miami Dolphins.
Imagine that? Barr once said he got “cold sweats” and his “stomach dropped” at the thought of joining the Jets. Now, four years later, you have Cook choosing a life in green over a year in South Beach.
It should be noted the Jets didn’t sign prime Adrian Peterson on Monday. There’s a reason Cook was there to be had on Aug. 14. He’s only 28, but an old 28 — over 1,500 touches in his six seasons with the Vikings.
He was a four-time Pro Bowler. He was once one of the game’s best. It’s hard to believe he’s still that same guy, but that’s fine, the Jets don’t need him to be.
Gase was against the Jets pursuing Bell in 2019 because he viewed the back as a “cherry on top” addition — the guy you add when you have everything else. The Jets finally have everything else. They viewed this as a chance to add another good player — which Cook, even if not who he once was, still is good — to a roster with Super Bowl aspirations.
It’s still hard to grasp just how far this team has come. They were a laughing stock, embarrassment not long ago. There was the near winless season in 2020. There were the issues with Zach Wilson. The Jets weren’t just mocked on SNL, but Ted Lasso. A once proud franchise rendered a punchline.
The Jets still haven’t accomplished anything yet. Positive press and favorable headlines are better than what’s been happening, but none of it matters until they take the field and win.
They still need to solidify their offensive line, where the tackle position looks particularly questionable, in order to legitimately push the Chiefs, Bills and Bengals in the AFC.
But the times aren’t changing, they’ve changed, and Cook’s arrival solidifies that.
Same old Jets? Not off the field.
Now they just have to prove it on it.