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ESPN is unanimous: Brandin Cooks is the AFC East’s most important new player

Out of all four AFC East teams, ESPN’s AFC East reporters agree that Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks is the division’s best newcomer.

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New Orleans Saints v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Shoot, if I didn’t know any better, it almost looks like ESPN is trying to crawl back into New England’s good graces.

The World Wide Leader in LeBron James Instagram Analysis sat their four AFC East writers down for a round-table to help get us through these last few weeks before training camp starts and posed a simple question: which new player in the AFC East is going to have the biggest impact in the division?

And in a surprisingly un-Embrace-Debate move, all four reporters - Mike Reiss (Patriots - and formerly of Reiss’s Pieces!), Mike Rodak (Bills), James Walker (Dolphins), and Rich Cimini (Jets) - came to the exact same conclusion. The division’s “best newcomer” - their words, not ours - is the 23-year-old Swiss Army knife that Bill Belichick gladly sent New England’s first and third-round draft picks to the Big Easy to acquire.

Here’s a few of the highlights that don’t include the observation of “Tom Brady gets the deep threat he hasn’t had since Randy Moss!”, which, at this point, is almost as infuriatingly obvious as someone noticing your screen is cracked and asking “Hey, did you drop your phone?”

Mike Rodak (Bills): Acquiring Cooks, who has the eighth-most receiving yards in the NFL since 2015, was the source of further frustration for fans of New England's opponents in the AFC East. How do the rich keep getting richer? In this case, the Patriots broke their habit of stockpiling draft picks by trading their first-round pick for Cooks and making further moves that left them with only four total selections in 2017.

James Walker (Dolphins): Even financially, this is a steal for New England. Cooks will be its fourth-highest-paid receiver this year at $1.563 million. Cooks makes less than Danny Amendola ($1.7 million) and Chris Hogan ($3 million) but could post better numbers than both of his teammates combined.

Mike Reiss (Patriots): One question is how he’ll fare in some poor weather conditions, which are inevitable in New England, after having played more than half of his games in comfy domes from 2014 through 2016.

Rich Cimini (Jets): Tom Brady & Co. will be difficult to defend when they’re in a three-receiver look, and they’ll be tough to defend when it’s a two-tight end package. Get the picture? I could easily see Cooks with 80 catches and 1,100 yards this season.

While all of this is true and well worth an evil laugh or two, it’s also worth noting that all three other AFC East teams had relatively chill offseasons, especially by some of their standards. Miami spent most of their dollars on keeping their already-playoff-caliber roster intact, with their biggest bang in free agency either being picking up longtime Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons or, possibly, tight end Julius Thomas (depending on whether you think Thomas can rebound from the talent-suck that is Jacksonville). The Bills gave ex-Packers safety Micah Hyde the honor of moving from playing in one frozen tundra to another, with a sweet $32.5 million for his trouble, but other than that, Buffalo mostly focused on depth signings. And then there’s the New York Jets, who are trusting the process™ so much that they’ve driven diehard fans to stare into the abyss this season:

Point being, schadenfreude aside, it’s not exactly like the rest of the division was out pulling a Bruno Mars and spending their money like money ain’ know.

Still, it’s hard not to be excited about a guy like Cooks that can shake defensive backs out of their boots - especially given the secondaries the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins are trotting out, which, to put it diplomatically, aren’t getting any Legion of Boom or No Fly Zone comparisons anytime soon.