Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Dolphins have spent tens of millions of dollars in free agency and draft picks chasing the New England Patriots. Thanks to a variety of reasons, for the first time in a long time, are the Patriots vulnerable to losing the top spot in the AFC East?
The Patriots have lost wide receivers Wes Welker (signed with the Denver Broncos in free agency), Brandon Lloyd (released) and Danny Woodhead (signed with the San Diego Chargers) in this offseason alone.
In addition, the Patriots’ tight ends have suffered a historically bad offseason. Rob Gronkowski had another surgery on his arm and an additional surgery on his back which could leave him unavailable at the start of the season.
Then there’s the case of Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez who could be arrested in relation to the death of Odin Lloyd.
So, it’s conceivable that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady could be without his top five receiving weapons to start the season. According to numbers from CBSSports.com, that means Brady will lose a group that accounted for 84.1 percent of the team’s receptions last year.
The Miami Dolphins took the completely opposite path in the offseason. The Dolphins locked up wide receivers Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Mike Wallace to long-term deals. The Fins also added tight end Dustin Keller, all of the moves in hopes of giving quarterback Ryan Tannehill more weapons.
The difference between the two is Brady is arguably the greatest NFL quarterback of all-time and Tannehill is a second-year player on the rise. But, the question remains whether or not Brady can overcome that much of a loss in production.
The Patriots added Danny Amendola, who is considered a faster version of Wes Welker, but the former St. Louis Rams receiver is also injury-prone and hasn’t played an entire season in his career.
This is how far the Patriots’ receiving class has fallen: if the team was playing today the starting corps would be Michael Jenkins, Amendola, Aaron Dobson, and tight end Jake Ballard. If Ballard suffers a setback in recovery from his knee injury a year and a half ago, the next two tight ends are Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells.
Still, if there’s one thing Brady has proven over the years is: don’t bet against him. The AFC East’s best cornerback is now in the NFC South; the Jets are a mess all over the field; Buffalo is rebuilding again; and Miami is completely retooled and it’s unknown has the pieces will come together.
While New England looks vulnerable, writing an obituary of the Patriots run atop the AFC East will probably have to wait until the day Brady and Belichick head off into the snow at Foxborough.