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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Tom Brady's departure from Patriots hardly clears way for Jets in AFC East

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the first half

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the first half against the Jets on October 21, 2019. Credit: Lee S. Weissman

Looking to inject a dose of levity at such a serious time, Buffalo mayor Byron Brown offered a suggestion to his constituents after reminding them that the city’s bars and restaurants would only serve takeout as a way to keep crowds away in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Not long after the news broke that Tom Brady would be leaving the Patriots after a spectacular 20-year career, Brown had the following advice to Bills fans delighted at the six-time Super Bowl champion’s departure.

“For those of you that want to celebrate Tom Brady leaving the Patriots … there are no mass gatherings,” Brown said. “Celebrate at home and with less than 10 people present.”

Well played, Mr. Mayor.

The same could be said for Jets and Dolphins fans who no longer have to deal with Brady now that he has joined the Buccaneers. After all, how many times have fans – and players – throughout the AFC East hoped to see the day when they didn’t have to worry about the most accomplished quarterback in NFL history ruining their dreams.

Buffalo fans watched Brady regularly pummel the Bills – the Patriots are 25-3 against Buffalo since Brown took office on Jan. 1, 2006 – and Jets fans have lamented plenty of miserable moments inflicted by Brady throughout the years. And even when the Jets did manage to pull off one of their biggest playoff upsets ever in a divisional round win at Foxboro after the 2010 regular season, they couldn’t turn it into a Super Bowl run thanks to an AFC Championship Game loss to the Steelers.

But just because Brady is out of the division doesn’t mean it’s clear sailing ahead for the Jets. Or the Bills or Dolphins, for that matter. Remember, Bill Belichick is still the Patriots coach, his defense is still one of the best in the league (although will be challenged after free-agent losses including Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy), and he’ll find a way to manufacture an offense even without Brady.

The Jets certainly will be challenged to make a run at the AFC East divisional title, even with the Brady-less Patriots facing a future without their star passer. Sam Darnold is still a work in progress heading into Year 3, and he’ll be playing behind a rebuilt offensive line that now includes free agent additions George Fant at left tackle and Connor McGovern at center. General managerJoe Douglas also re-signed left guard Alex Lewis, who did a solid job last year after being traded from Baltimore.

The Jets’ receiving corps remains a question mark, especially if they lose Robby Anderson in free agency. It’s a receiver-rich draft that Douglas will most likely use to address the need, but there is still a long way to go to give Darnold adequate firepower to put up points.

And the Jets’ defense remains incomplete without a big-time pass rusher. Douglas is smart to make re-signing Jamal Adams a priority, but there is so much more to be done. They need a deeper pool of cornerbacks, although Wednesday’s addition of Brian Poole helps. They need help at linebacker. And they need upgrades along the defensive line, where No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams didn’t show big-time ability as a rookie.

The Dolphins showed improvement last season after an 0-7 start under former Belichick lieutenant Brian Flores, and while they’ve still got to sort out their own quarterback issues – Ryan Fitzpatrick is the incumbent starter – Flores and GM Chris Grier have been aggressive on the free-agent market. They signed elite cornerback Byron Jones, as well as Van Noy, defensive end Shaq Lawson and running back Jordan Howard.

It’s the Bills who are best positioned to finally dethrone the Patriots.

Coming off a playoff run with second-year quarterback Josh Allen, Buffalo continues to add pieces to an already solid team. They swung for the fences in acquiring Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, who joins expert slot receiver Cole Beasley. And they have a defense that features former first-round picks Ed Oliver on the defensive line, Tremaine Edumunds at linebacker and Tre’Davious White at cornerback.

The Bills nearly upset the Texans in the wild card round last year, but nevertheless gained valuable postseason experience in building what could be a reliable playoff contender for years to come.

It will be that much easier now that they don’t have to worry about Brady.

For the hard-luck Jets, it’ll take a lot more than what they’ve got now to celebrate Brady’s departure with a playoff run.

New York Sports