Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott
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What Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott Can Bring to the Jets and Patriots

The AFC just loaded up on veteran running backs with the Jets and Patriots signing Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott.

Two AFC East rivals bolstered their running back rooms with two of the premier veterans available in free agency this week, as the New England Patriots inked Ezekiel Elliott mere hours before the New York Jets welcomed Dalvin Cook into the fold.

Elliott arrives in New England as a cog in a relatively inexperienced running back room, with upside, on a one-year contract that will pay the former Dallas Cowboys All-Pro up to $6 million.

Meanwhile, Cook's one-year contract could wind up being worth upward of $8.6 million, based on incentives. The four-time Pro Bowl former Vikings star adds a powerful punch to a dynamic offense led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers ahead of what New York hopes is a serious Super Bowl push.

While both teams are seemingly headed in different directions — as the Patriots must use 2023 to find a viable long-term solution at quarterback, and the Jets are pushing every proverbial chip into the middle of the table this season — they each filled a glaring need with these signings.

Here's a breakdown of what each running back will add to his new team as the 2023 regular season looms, with insight from sources around the league:

Dalvin Cook, New York Jets

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 01: Dalvin Cook #4 of the Minnesota Vikings watches action prior to a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on January 01, 2023 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Vikings 41-17.

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Jets are going for it, and Cook not only allows the organization to ease explosive second-year back Breece Hall back from a torn ACL but also adds yet another dynamic playmaker to Rodgers' loaded supporting cast.

"I love this signing for them," an NFC general manager told FanBuzz, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about another team. "Dalvin definitely adds an explosive big-play element to both the run and the passing game."

Cook was widely viewed as the top available free agent, and he developed a strong market as training camps wore on across the league — and for good reason.

At age 28, Cook is coming off a 2022 campaign in which he rushed for 1,173 yards with eight touchdowns, while adding 39 receptions for 295 yards and two more touchdowns.

Now with Cook in the fold, and Hall coming off the PUP (physically unable to perform) list, the Jets have assembled what has the potential to be one of the top 5 most dominant backfields in the league. Hall had a fantastic rookie season that was cut short by an injury, and he has tremendous upside.

Cook's presence as an every-down bell cow gives the Jets the freedom not to rush Hall back, after a rookie season that saw him average 5.8 yards per carry and rush for four touchdowns with 463 yards through seven games. But once Hall is back and fully healthy, the Jets can attack opposing defenses in myriad ways while limiting the wear and tear on both backs in some sort of timeshare role for each.

Ezekiel Elliott, New England Patriots

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 22: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on during an NFL divisional round playoff football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium on January 22, 2023 in Santa Clara, California.

Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Elliott's signing is the culmination of extensive due diligence by the Patriots to find a veteran running back who can serve as both a change-of-pace back and a battering ram in short-yardage situations.

Last season in Dallas, Elliott appeared in 15 games en route to 876 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns — averaging a meager 3.8 yards per carry — while battling through a sprained MCL that sidelined him two games. In his Cowboys swan song, Elliott was widely viewed as the thunder to Tony Pollard's lightning in the backfield.

Following conversations with team sources, it seems the Patriots view Elliott as a solid running back but more as the team's No. 2 option with the hope he proves to be a solid complement to Rhamondre Stevenson.

Stevenson, 25, is entering his third NFL season after rushing for a career-high 1,040 yards with five touchdowns and averaging 5.0 yards per carry in 2022.

Last season, Stevenson posted 106 rushing yards with one touchdown when there were 1-3 yards to go, but only 12 carries on third down and less than 3 yards. But three of Stevenson's touchdowns came inside the 10-yard line.

Meanwhile, Elliott should thrive in those situations. In 2022, Elliott averaged 4.4 yards per carry on third down and less than 3, while rushing for three touchdowns in those situations, and adding 11 touchdown runs from inside the 10-yard line.

The Patriots seemingly are setting up a backfield by committee that should allow Elliott to reprise a role alongside Stevenson similar to what he had with Pollard last season in Dallas.

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