We found out this NFL offseason just how much Bill Belichick hates losing.
The dynasty in New England did not fare well after the departure of Tom Brady for warmer climes - he collected a seventh Super Bowl ring in Tampa Bay while Belichick and the Pats slumped to 7-9 and third place in the AFC East.
To add to the feeling it was the end of an era, wide receiver Julian Edelman and safety Patrick Chung both announced their retirements after the season.
On the back of that miserable showing the reaction in Foxboro was swift - New England went on an unprecedented (for them) spending spree in free agency to beef up a flagging roster.
The moves were needed - this is not the AFC East of old - for so long a cakewalk for Brady, Bill and the Pats.
Now Buffalo has built a bona fide Super Bowl contender behind the golden arm of Josh Allen, while Miami looks set to challenge in 2021 after a massive rebuild of its roster.
At least one thing is the same though - the Jets are very much still the Jets. Starting over with a new head coach and a new ‘answer’ at quarterback, yet again.
It all adds up to a fascinating mix as we look ahead to the 2021 season - there are storylines aplenty. And opportunities for NFL punters.
When Wyoming’s Josh Allen came out of college in 2018, he was only the third quarterback taken in the NFL Draft (behind Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold).
But most experts agreed on one thing - he possessed the most potential of all, it was a question of whether that upside would translate to the pro game. The arm was a bazooka but what about the accuracy?
Allen silenced all the doubters in his third season in Buffalo, leading the Bills to a 13-3 record, an AFC East division title and a first AFC Championship game appearance since Marv Levy, Jim Kelly and co reached four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s.
Josh threw for more than 4500 yards, 37 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions to finally give Bills Mafia a reason to really go wild.
There was change aplenty in Miami as well, with the Dolphins providing a rapid renaissance from the depths of 5-11 and ‘tanking for Tua’ to 10-6.
The Fish did get Tua (Tagovailoa) in the end, taking the Alabama QB fifth in the 2020 Draft as part of a massive overhaul of their roster. The results were impressive under the stewardship of head coach Brian Flores.
Miami would miss out on a playoff spot on the final day of the season, but looks well placed to take another leap forward in 2021.
The story was very different in New England - the glory years came to a very abrupt halt with the departure of Brady from pro football’s most famous partnership. No need to ask any more who was most responsible for that dynasty...
Cam Newton was no match for the influence Brady had on his supporting cast, and perennial playoff presence was swapped for 7-9 and third place in the division.
The Jets, as stated, did what they always do. Acted as a laughing stock around the league as they continue to wander in the NFL wilderness. Still looking for a quarterback to pin their wagon to, and a head coach to lead the show.
They couldn’t even manage to seal the first pick in the draft and with it Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence, seen as a generational talent. Two straight wins after an 0-13 ruined ‘tank for Trevor’.
Sean McDermott was Coach Of The Year material in 2020 as the Bills romped to an AFC East title and an appearance in the AFC Championship game.
The Bills had been 6-10 in Josh Allen’s first season, and followed up by improving to 10-6. The leap in 2020 was again huge, led by Allen at the game’s most important position.
It’s not surprising Allen is prominent in NFL MVP betting - he has it all. A rocket arm, can make all the throws and provide a real threat as a runner. The talent was always there - bringing it out to such an extent though means kudos for Allen himself, and McDermott and the coaching staff.
The Bills prioritised winning up front in the 2021 Draft - never a bad strategy. Defensive ends Gregory Rousseau (Miami) and Carlos Basham Jr (Wake Forest) were taken in Rounds 1 and 2, followed by offensive tackles Spencer Brown (Northern Iowa) and Tommy Doyle (Miami of Ohio) in Rounds 3 and 5.
Protecting Allen, and getting to opposing quarterbacks, were goals clearly at the front of mind for Buffalo and its front office. Re-signing OT Daryl Williams and OG Jon Feliciano added to that first narrative.
The Bills also made some nice moves in free agency - while Mitch Trubisky (one-year deal) never made the expected impression in Chicago, he is an eminently serviceable backup to Allen.
At wide receiver, the capture of Emmanuel Sanders was a smart move - he caught 61 passes for the Saints in 2020 and provides quality across from undoubted WR #1 Stefon Diggs.
One concern for Buffalo might be the status of talented slot receiver Cole Beasley - he has been outspoken about the league’s COVID health and safety protocols in recent weeks.
Summary: The Bills offense made a huge jump in 2020, up to second in the league overall from 24th in 2019. It was the defense if anything which set alarm bells ringing ahead of 2021.
Buffalo ranked third in total defense in 2019, but only 14th in 2020. The moves to beef up the pass rush show the desire to get back to previous heights. The success of those moves could mean the difference between merely making the post-season and a Super Bowl trip.
After a very smart offseason’s work by the front office the Bills are worthy favourites to win the East again - if you don’t fear an Allen regression then they are clearly the team to beat.
At the start of the 2019 NFL season the Miami Dolphins were in turmoil - gutting their roster by trading away anything of value, ready for a major rebuild.
Two short years on, and the Dolphins are ready to contend again - that’s how quickly free agency and the draft allows things to change in the National Football League.
5-11 in 2019 became 10-6 in 2020 under the impressive stewardship of former Patriots DC Flores, and the Fish are expected to take another step in 2021.
Tua took over as starter midway through the 2020 season and led the Dolphins to a 6-3 record in nine starts.
The former Crimson Tide standout had trouble getting the ball downfield though, averaging less than 200 passing yards per game, but Miami has shown commitment to changing that in the offseason.
In came Tua’s former ‘Bama teammate, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, with the sixth pick of the draft. Then at 18 the Dolphins beefed up their pass rush with Miami Hurricanes prospect Jaelon Phillips.
Miami used some more of the draft capital it had acquired in recent times by adding further cornerstone pieces in the second round - Oregon safety Jevon Holland and Notre Dame offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg.
Tua will have new voices (yep, plural) in his headset calling plays this season after Chan Gailey’s resignation as OC was followed by the news that Eric Studesville and George Godsey will share the role in 2021. Tua is THE key factor for Miami, so that arrangement has to work.
Summary: The progression of Tua, or not, will be the key to Miami’s season in 2021. There are many who doubt he has what it takes to be the long-term answer, and five interceptions during one June practice alone set tongues wagging even more.
The front office has done a terrific job of rebuilding this roster - it’s now young and stacked with talent. But can the coaching staff get Tua to the next level? Everything hinges on that.
If there’s one thing Bill Belichick hates more than press conferences, it’s losing. So the uncharacteristic aggression New England showed in free agency this offseason was hardly surprising.
Belichick and the Pats responded to a miserable 7-9 record and a third-place finish in the AFC East by going out on a huge spending spree to beef up its core of talent for 2021.
Without Rob Gronkowski - now celebrating a Super Bowl with his BFF Brady in Tampa - Belichick spent big on not one but two tight ends in a bid to bring back the glory days.
In came former Charger Hunter Henry (three years, $37.5million) and former Titan Jonnu Smith four years, $50million). On the outside meanwhile the Pats picked up wide receivers Nelson Agholor (two years, $24million), and Kendrick Bourne (three years, $15million).
The defense also got something a makeover after a seismic fall from #1 in the NFL in 2019 to middle of the pack in 2020.
The biggest addition was Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon (four years, $56million) while former Dolphins Kyle van Noy (LB) and Davon Godchaux (DT) both moved across the division. In the secondary, former Eagle Jalen Mills adds to the options at corner.
Finally, if that was’t enough, the Pats were able to trade with Las Vegas to bring a former Super Bowl winner home in the shape of offensive tackle Trent Brown. Quite the offseason...
With the roster largely overhauled, Belichick could approach the draft knowing he could focus on fixing the biggest issue of all - quarterback.
At best Newton presents a short-term stopgap, and the Pats acquired their signal caller of the future by spending the 15th overall pick on Alabama’s Mac Jones. He is seen as one of the more pro-ready prospects coming out in 2021, and it would be a shock if he doesn’t start at some stage in his rookie year.
New England followed that by getting excellent value in Round 2 in the selection of another Albama standout - defensive tackle Christian Barmore.
Summary: New England didn’t make all those moves in the offseason to gradually get back to relevance - this was about a swift turnaround to the top of the AFC East tree.
If you believe that Cam can have one more golden winter, or that Jones will be an instant plug-and-play answer at QB, then that 7/2 may well look tasty.
The New York Jets have been an exercise in futility for pretty much half a century since ‘Broadway’ Joe Namath was delivering a championship to the Big Apple.
In recent years the team has been something of a laughing stock, a meme in one of sport’s biggest media markets.
It’s a long time since the Jets had a serviceable answer at quarterback, when you look back to Chad Pennington early this Century it’s a case of ‘you don’t know what you have until it’s gone’.
Yet another new era starts this year after the Adam Gase experiment ended in misery - as stated he couldn’t even tank properly to nail that Trevor Lawrence pick.
Now the Jets have hired former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to be their new head coach, and made yet another change at the quarterback position.
Out goes Sam Darnold, the third overall pick in the 2018 Draft, in a trade to Carolina. In comes Zach Wilson of BYU with the second overall pick of the 2021 Draft.
Just having high draft picks with which to select a franchise QB is no guarantee of success - the Jets are the poster boys for failure in that area. But Wilson does have superstar potential and could be an enormous hit with the NY media. How often have we said that before…
There are a few worrying noises already coming from media Stateside - notably the God that is Peter King describing it as “preposterous” that the Jets are heading into the season with no experienced backup behind Wilson (Nick Foles would be his answer).
Can you imagine if Wilson stinks the joint out early, or goes down injured? With only James Morgan and Mike White behind him, things could get seriously ugly. An offense which averaged only 15.2 points per game in 2020 could get even worse.
New York has tried to upgrade the talent around Wilson, firstly by spending $37million over three years on former Tennessee WR Corey Davis. It then spent its three draft picks after Wilson on USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, Ole Miss WR Elijah Moore and North Carolina RB Michael Carter.
Saleh did a terrific job of building that 49ers defense into a beast in the last couple of years, and New York will be hoping for similar results again from its new head coach.
The return of LB CJ Mosley (opted out in 2020) and the acquisitions of DE Carl Lawson and DT Sheldon Rankins do provide cause for optimism up front. There are major concerns though about the secondary, which was porous to say the least last season.
Summary: Those odds of 20s to win the division and 80s to win a Super Bowl (particularly the latter) might be some of the worst value we’ve seen in a while.
This is a team which is 23-57 over the last five seasons - worse than any other franchise.
We’d hope the Jets are not quite as bad as they were in 2020, but there is very little to suggest they can become a winning team in 2021. We expect improvement, but baby steps only.
Odds correct at 1645 BST (21/07/21)
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