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As Patriots face uncertainty, AFC East remains locked in cycle of turnover

Alex Reimer
March 12, 2018 - 4:24 pm

The Patriots’ competitors in the AFC have been reliably unstable over the last 17 years. In the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, the Jets, Dolphins and Bills have trotted out 43 different starting quarterbacks and 17 head coaches. 

This offseason promises to bring even more changes.

The Dolphins have been shedding parts in the days leading up to free agency. They traded Jarvis Landry to the Browns Friday for two draft picks, depleting their receiving corps. There were logical reasons for the Dolphins to oust Landry. Despite leading the league in receptions last season (112), he only racked up 987 yards, good for 17th overall. While there is value in a strict slot receiver, Landry is due to make more than $16 million in 2018. That’s too hefty of a price to pay, especially since Miami was reportedly frustrated with Landry’s attitude.

But still, Landry was the Dolphins’ most productive receiver –– by far. Their offense takes a significant hit without him. 

Miami’s latest remake, which started last season with the Jay Ajayi trade, is carrying over to the defensive side of the ball. The Dolphins are planning to release defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, according to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington. Veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons has already been shown the door. 

Both players presented discipline issues for the Dolphins. Suh has a history of being fined for player-safety violations and Timmons was suspended one game last season for going AWOL following the team’s opener. If Suh is designated as a post-June 1 cut, the Dolphins will save $17 million on the salary cap.

Maybe these departures are necessary if the Dolphins are going to turn it around. But with Ryan Tannehill back, it seems like next season might be another rebuilding campaign in Miami.

The Bills probably think they can compete, because they made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2000. But they’ll be looking for their 16th different starting quarterback this offseason since Brady started fielding snaps for the Patriots. Buffalo shipped Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland recently for a 2018 third-round pick. 

Taylor is slated to count $16 million against the cap next season, so trading him was the right move if the Bills didn't want to restructure his contract. But it's yet to be determined whether they will find somebody better. While Taylor made his share of mistakes –– Patriots linebacker Eric Lee’s goal-line interception comes to mind –– Buffalo finished ninth in Offensive DVOA in 2015 and 10th in 2016. There's no guarantee Taylor's replacement, even if it's a first-round pick, will immediately be better. 

The Jets, armed with the No. 6 overall pick and most cap space in the NFL, are expected to make big changes. In addition to a quarterback, safety Tyrann Mathieu is a possibility. It's possible the Jets will be a lot better, especially if they land Kirk Cousins. But if they don't, well, another lost season might be in their future. 

The Patriots are faced with more uncertainty this offseason than usual. But the rest of their division remains in its cycle of perpetual turnover. Not everything has changed. 

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