Ask yourself this question: The AFC East; whose division is it? Five years ago the answer was simple. The division belonged to Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots. So much has changed since then.
The Miami Dolphins hit the reset button in 2019. Less than a handful of players from the 2018 squad remain with the team. Brady just won another Super Bowl, this time in Tampa Bay with his sidekick Rob Gronkowski. Meanwhile, Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and the Buffalo Bills appear to be in the driver’s seat of the division. The New York Jets have been the only constant without a winning season since 2015, but they are going to try to turn things around with new head coach Robert Saleh.
Sacrifice the Exchange
‘Sacrifice the Exchange’ is a chess term that is defined as the intentional exchange of a piece of greater value for a piece of a smaller value to get a more important result.
The Dolphins did this so well in 2019, exchanging so many players for draft picks and future cap space that they were famously accused of tanking. The result was they were able to get younger and better fast. Three years later, Miami is still going into the draft with five of the top 100 picks.
The Patriots also used this move in 2020, but seemed to disguise it better. New England lost one of its best game pieces in Brady. In a subsequent move, Belichick surrendered multiple players, many of which joined the Dolphins. This allowed the Patriots to restore their salary cap health and qualify for compensatory picks. Belichick is always thinking two moves ahead, as he reacquired Kyle Van Noy and Ted Karras. The Patriots also added former Dolphin Davon Godchaux.
The shrewd game of chess between the Dolphins and Patriots continues this season. New England has telegraphed their tactics. The Patriots signed tight end Jonnu Smith to a four-year, $50M contract. They followed that by signing TE Hunter Henry to a three-year, $37.5M contract just 24 hours later. This is a clear signal that New England is looking to go back to the two tight end offense that has worked well for them before.
The other critical factor in these moves is that New England is doing everything to make Cam Newton as successful as he can be. Newton’s favorite target for his career was TE Greg Olsen. The two TE set and run-pass-option offense will simplify the game for Cam.
To defend prolific tight ends, teams need defensive backs that can contain them and linebackers that tackle well. Miami already had capable defensive backs and probably will continue to get stronger there. Likewise, this is where the trade for MLB Benardrick McKinney is a thing of beauty. McKinney provides the sure-handed tackler in the middle for Miami.
The Bills were invincible last year against the AFC East, going a perfect 6-0. That did not stop them from making a few strategic moves also, most notably signing free agent running back Matt Breida, who spent last season with Miami.
Bills mafia believes the division is theirs now. New England is doing everything they can to scratch back. Meanwhile, Miami will look to exceed expectations yet again under Flores. And the Jets, well, we will see.