Guregian: Looks like AFC East rivals preparing for post-Tom Brady era
HOUSTON — What is it with the Patriots’ competitors in the AFC East? Isn’t anyone going to put up a fight?
The Dolphins can’t seem to stop losing top players to injury. The Jets cleaned house during the offseason, dumping all of their big-ticket talent. And just last week the Bills started ejecting their best players.
Have they all given up?
Jay Cutler might make sense in Miami for his old coordinator Adam Gase, who needed a fast replacement for Ryan Tannehill as he tries to chart a return path to the playoffs. But Cutler has never beaten the Patriots (0-3).
The Jets are just tanking, period, though losing top receiver Quincy Enunwa to a season-ending injury last week doesn’t help.
And what’s up with Bills and their latest wheeling and dealing? Last week they traded away stud receiver Sammy Watkins and top cornerback Ronald Darby.
But is there actually some logic behind these teams’ ineptitude? Sure, if you factor Tom Brady into the equation.
In addition to winning five Super Bowls, Brady has planted his flag almost permanently atop the AFC East. In the past 16 seasons, Brady and the Patriots have won the division title 14 times. And no AFC East rival has ever finished with a better record than Brady in that span.
So maybe some of these clubs have decided to plan for the post-Brady era. They’ll take their lumps now and plan to be competitive when Brady, who turned 40 earlier this month, eventually leaves the landscape. (Though Brady keeps saying he wants to keep playing for perhaps even five more years.)
The Bills, for one, seem headed in that direction. While their fans might not be too happy about how competitive they can be this season, they’ve set themselves up nicely for the future. They have a league-high six picks in the first three rounds next year (two in the first, two in the second, two in the third).
It’s just a guess, but they’re probably hoping to develop their players and round into form right around the time Brady finally rides off into the sunset.
Let’s remember, the Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999. They see another loaded Patriots team with Brady at the helm. They see another roadblock this year.
Maybe if they play their cards right and draft well next year, and the following year, they can be in position to take over as the dominant team in the AFC East when Brady eventually retires.
General manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott are the new guys in charge in Buffalo. They want players who fit their program. That being said, having had five GMs and six coaches the past decade, the Bills can’t keep starting over. But this latest maneuver might work if Brady cooperates and the Bills strike gold with the draft picks.
Funny how Bill Belichick still won’t refer to them by name. Don’t think the Patriots coach cares how bad they are, or whether it’s intentional or not. They sure have the look of a team that just might go 0-16, especially with Josh McCown and Christian Hackenberg the choices for Todd Bowles at quarterback. So they’re already the favorite to get the top pick in next year’s draft. And after passing on quarterbacks this year in a draft not considered great on throwing talent, which was actually a smart move, they’ll be in the driver’s seat for the best of the lot in a draft considered much better for quarterbacks. Jets fans probably already imagine seeing USC’s Sam Darnold in green.
So it’s possible the Jets are also looking down the road and seeing life after Brady as their goal.
The Dolphins are different. They were a playoff team last year in Gase’s first season. They seemed on the upswing. Tannehill injured his knee late in the year, but opted not to have surgery and it’s come back to haunt him and the team. So now they’ve yanked Cutler out of retirement and are resting their hopes on him for this year.
Good luck with that.
Beyond Tannehill, the Dolphins also lost starting corner Tony Lippett with a torn Achilles, starting left guard Ted Larsen with a torn biceps, and rookie linebacker Raekwon McMillan, another projected starter, with a torn ACL.
They might not be in rebuild mode like the Bills and Jets, but it’s no longer looking as rosy for this season.
So what is it with the AFC East teams?
It’s pretty simple. Chasing Brady the past 16 seasons has been a perpetual nightmare. The way the Bills and Jets are figuring it, life after Brady can’t possibly be as bad.