Jets sign ex-Bear and former All-Pro returner Tarik Cohen

NEW YORK — With the new NFL kickoff rules set to take effect in 2024, the New York Jets added a former Pro Bowl returner to their team on Wednesday morning.

The Gang Green has signed ex-Bears running back Tarik Cohen to a one-year contract. ESPN first announced the news of the Jets signing Cohen, and coach Robert Saleh confirmed it during his press conference.

To make room for Cohen, the Jets waived running back Markese Stepp.

“Explosive playmaker,” Saleh said about Cohen. “Starting to get back healthy. With the new kickoff rules, these kick returners are going to touch the ball over 100 times a year, which is significant.

“He’s still young, coming off his injuries, we’re excited to have him.”

In March, the NFL approved a new kickoff format, adopting a system first used in the XFL. Kickers will still kick off from their own 35-yard line, but the other 10 members of the kicking team will line up at the opposite team’s 40-yard line.

The return team will have nine blocking players lined up in the “set-up zone” between the 30 and 35-yard lines. Two players are allowed to return the ball inside the 20-yard line.

Cohen, 28, was initially selected by the Bears in 2017 in the fourth round. He spent four seasons in Chicago, was selected to the Pro Bowl, and was first-team All-Pro in 2018. But he hasn’t taken a snap since the 2020 campaign.

A torn ACL, MCL, and leg fracture kept Cohen out of all but three games in 2020. After he was released by the Bears in 2021, Cohen tore his Achilles — the same injury that sidelined Aaron Rodgers for all but four plays in 2023 — while working out as a free agent.

The Carolina Panthers signed Cohen to their practice squad last season but released him earlier this month.

Cohen wore No. 38 and participated during Wednesday’s practice and the Jets wasted zero time using him in the backfield. He had a nice run off a toss from Tyrod Taylor that would have gone for a big game. Cohen looked explosive during his practice time.

Cohen will compete with second-year player Xavier Gipson for the Jets returner role. During the season opener victory against the Bills, Gipson scored a 65-yard game-winning return touchdown in overtime. Gipson averaged 9.7 yards per punt return and 23.2 yards per kickoff return.

“We share from a defensive standpoint having to gameplan against him when he was with the Bears, he was a nightmare,” Saleh said about Cohen. “I know when we played him, he had a punt return for a touchdown back at Soldier Field. He’s a playmaker.”