The New England Patriots played their third stringers against the Jacksonville Jaguars and there was just one possible response for the rest of the AFC East: simply give up.
The New York Jets already gave up on the season before the start of training camp. They shipped away nearly every veteran over the age of 30 and put their other players on the trading block. They don’t have a quarterback, they don’t have a wide receiver, they don’t have a tight end, they don’t have a cornerback, and they don’t have a chance in 2017. They’ve set up the roster to try and tank for the first overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Miami Dolphins lost their starting quarterback to a torn ACL and replaced him with Smokin’ Jay Cutler. Both Ryan Tannehill and Cutler rank in the bottom five of the NFL in adjusted net yards per pass, an indication that neither of these players are particularly efficient at their job- and Vegas oddsmakers believe that Cutler will make the team much worse.
And now the Buffalo Bills have decided to join the New York Jets by rebooting their roster. Buffalo traded away former first round WR Sammy Watkins and former starting CB Ronald Darby for a pair of players in CB E.J. Gaines and WR Jordan Matthews that could have an impact, but the trades were mostly for the draft picks.
The Bills reboot is curious because they gave up two of their better young players in exchange for draft picks. Typically teams that are rebuilding find ways to retain and build around their young talent, but it would seem like the Bills front office didn’t see a future with Watkins and Darby.
For the record, Bills head coach Sean McDermott comes from a defensive scheme that doesn’t prioritize having quality defensive backs in favor of investing in the defensive front seven. That’s certainly a bold strategy that led his old defenses to sling back and forth in the rankings from 18th to 2nd to 21st to 6th and finally to 26th in 2016. The Bills now have one of the worst cornerback depth charts in the league.
But now the Bills and Jets are both folding on the 2017 season with their focus turned towards the 2018 Draft, and the entire Dolphins season rests in the hands of Jay freaking Cutler. The AFC East is hopeless for yet another season.
I write this article in (hopefully apparent) jest because the Patriots preseason game has nothing to do with the Dolphins injuries or the Bills trades or the Jets general ineptitude, but also because there’s a little kernel of truth.
The Patriots are freaking stacked for 2017. The number of offensive skill players in the AFC East that could even make the New England roster is limited to Bills RB LeSean McCoy and TE Charles Clay, Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry and TE Julius Thomas, and maybe Jets RB Bilal Powell. I feel comfortable saying that the Patriots second-string offense is still better than any other offense in the division.
The Jets and Bills never had a chance at winning the division and so it makes sense for them to look towards the future. The Jets need a quarterback (and they need everything else, too) and they will never win until they find one. The Bills weren’t sure if they’d sign Watkins beyond 2017 and so they made the smart Bill Belichick-like move to obtain draft capital a year early rather than a year late; if you swap the name “Chandler Jones” or “Jamie Collins” for “Sammy Watkins,” you’ll have a pretty similar strategy.
The Bills now have approximately a million draft picks in the first three rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft and a new front office and coaching regime. They’ll let all the current players prove their value in 2017 and move forward with 2018 in mind. Of course McCoy will be 30 years old and key players like Kyle Williams (35), Richie Incognito (35), Lorenzo Alexander (35), and Eric Wood (32) will be playing on fumes, so who knows where the Bills will stand.
Add in the potential return of Ryan Tannehill in 2018, along with the continued development of a strong core roster, and the Dolphins should also be stronger down the road.
But while the other three AFC East teams turn their focus towards the future, the Patriots and their embarrassment of talent will keep winning in 2017.