Bean: The AFC East is tanking

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Bean: The AFC East is tanking

Normally, you would accuse the team that just signed Jay Cutler of tanking. Not in the AFC East!

With Friday’s moves from the Bills -- they traded Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby in separate deals for a second-rounder, a third-rounder, Jordan Matthews and E.J. Gaines -- means they can now join the Jets as AFC East teams that are just completely mailing it in this season. 

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Really, it’s not an awful strategy. The Bills were not going to win the division or even push for a wild card spot, so they gave up on one of the most talented players in the league in Watkins. The fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft will now try to rescue Jared Goff in Los Angeles. Matthews is a good player who’s put up good numbers, but he isn’t the potential franchise player that Watkins is. 

After Friday’s trades, the Bills now have multiple picks in each of the first three rounds of the 2018 draft. Plus, trading away their good players to other teams ensures that the Patriots won’t poach them the way they have with Chris Hogan, Stephon Gillmore and Mike Gillislee of late.  

At least the Bills waited until the preseason began to throw in the towel on 2017. The Jets pretty much punted out of the gate, subtracting Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Nick Mangold, David Harris and Darrelle Revis from a 5-11 team. They didn’t solve their quarterback dilemma, but then again neither did the Bills. 

The AFC East has been a four-team division since 2002, but it’s largely been a one-team division given that the Pats have won it in 13 of the 14 seasons in which Tom Brady has been healthy (14 of 15 dating back to when the Colts were in the division). 

So the Pats and everyone else have been used to one team dominating. Yet the Jets and Bills have been able to give New England some actual games, with Buffalo beating the Pats in Week 4 of last season and the Jets beating them in overtime in Week 16 in 2015. Expect no such games this season. 

Instead, it’s up to a Dolphins team that made the playoffs without great quarterback play to provide perhaps the only watchable divisional games for the Patriots. Then again, the Pats blew that team out for a half with their backup quarterback, held on to win that game with their third-string quarterback making his NFL debut and then stomped them by 21 points in their other meeting last season. 

That team could very well have Jay Cutler, whom the Patriots destroy, under center when the teams meet this season. 

The Dolphins are at least trying, so give them credit there. Then again, you might as well give the Jets and Bills credit while you’re at it. The whole thing isn’t too different from the Celtics opting not to cash in all their assets for veteran stars right now. The Celtics are waiting out the end of Cleveland’s run in the East. The teams in New York are seemingly waiting to build their teams to be ready for the end of the Brady era.

For now, however, they’re basically giving the Pats the division. Then again, that’s nothing new. 

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Hightower happy to be back in New England following free agency

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Hightower happy to be back in New England following free agency

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower met with reporters to talk football on Wednesday morning at Gillette Stadium, the first time he had done so since signing an extension with the Patriots back in March.

About five months later, no regrets.

"It’s good. I’m glad I didn’t have to relocate," Hightower said with a smile. "Stressful, but glad it’s over with. Glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m back on the field now."

Hightower, who was removed from the physically unable to perform list on Wednesday, explained that there was a point during the free agency process at which he believed he might end up playing elsewhere. 

"Yeah, it’s free agency," Hightower said. "But it is what it is. It’s over and done with now. I’m here."

On spending his career to this point in New England and being a member of the Patriots, Hightower added: "It’s meant a lot. I’ve been here my whole career. It wasn’t a hard change for what I had in college, so I was definitely used to it. So it wasn’t a big change. I feel like I’ve had a lot of success in programs like this. Alabama and New England are not too far different. The culture around here, the teammates, the coaches is second to none anywhere. When it came down to my decision, it wasn’t too hard of a choice."

Brady recalls scrubbing rooftops, cleaning industrial parks during summers at Michigan

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Brady recalls scrubbing rooftops, cleaning industrial parks during summers at Michigan

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady's not sure if he'll be able to get back to Ann Arbor as he and the Patriots spend some time this week in the state of Michigan leading up to their preseason game against the Lions on Friday. He's hoping he'll be able to sneak over at some point. Maybe he'll have an opportunity to talk to the football team.

On Wednesday, Brady described his time at Michigan as the "pit stop" of his life's journey from California to Massachusetts. It's also representative of the midpoint of his life now in a way since he spent 18 years growing up on the West Coast, and now he's in his 18th year in New England. 

As part of his college experience, Brady learned what it was like to work a job that didn't involve throwing a football. As it turned out, those experiences didn't provide much in the way of on-the-job training for his eventual career. But he didn't know he was going to become a Hall of Fame quarterback. When the fifth round came and went in 2000, he said on Facebook back in 2014, he figured those summer internships during his Michigan days and the resume they beefed up might help him land a gig that would pay the bills. 

"Those were good experiences," he said Wednesday. "I was at Michigan in the summer. You work different jobs, you get a scholarship check, but you're trying to afford -- like all of us were -- our coll experience. I worked in construction. Worked at a golf course to play free golf. That's what I liked to do. Worked at a festival at night so I was working two jobs. It was good experiences. It really was hard work."

And it might have taken his appreciation for playing football -- something he plans to do at an age when most players have been retired for a decade or more -- to a different level.

"I've been so fortunate to do something I love to do," he said. "I've said for a long time, working out and training and being on the practice field never feels like work for me. That definitely felt like work when you're cleaning up industrial parks and scrubbing the tops of roofs and stuff like that. Man, I was pretty tired at the end of those days."