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AFC East teams spend big to catch up with Patriots

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This was already set up to be a beautiful, toxic reality show-style incarnation of the AFC East before the Dolphins went ahead and inked the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, the Jets stole Darrelle Revis back from the Evil Empire and the Bills inked Percy Harvin to line up alongside Sammy Watkins.

Add that into the mix alongside the divorced power players of New York glory past -- Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum -- both squaring off twice a year and actively plotting against one another, and we've already got enough of a sub plot to carry us through to the midway point in 2015.

The Patriots will remain the pace-setters, though part of the intrigue heading into voluntary workouts stems from a feeling that the rest of the pack has never been closer.

Are we prepared to sound foolish by saying such a thing? Even better. The rest of the AFC East is raising expectations with all this salary cap money flying around and all these high-profile stars changing addresses. A collapse by the rest of the division will make for a tire fire worth watching.

As we brace ourselves for the rampant speculation -- and momentary high each team experiences before actual football takes place -- here are a few reasons why we're expecting big things out of the AFC East:

It's unlikely that the Revis signing will re-ignite the Jets-Patriots rivalry by itself if only because New England understands the nature of a one-year veteran rental. Revis, having earned his only Super Bowl ring there, probably harbors no ill will either. But the move does show that the Jets aren't content as a sinking ship and will inevitably re-energize a fan base that has been jaded over the past three seasons as they watched their bombastic head coach either away under the painful miscalculations of a first-time general manager. Bringing back fan favorite Antonio Cromartie won't hurt, either. That energy alone, some sustainable hope that a playoff berth is on the horizon, can re-ignite a rivalry that was once one of the best in football.

Rex Ryan will still see Bill Belichick twice a year but with the best defense he's had since 2010 and the most offensive talent he's ever coached. Re-signing Jerry Hughes gives his pass rush all the ammunition he'll need to bend the pocket around Tom Brady and, with that interior pressure, Ryan will have room to get creative on the back end, a luxury that left him around the time Shaun Ellis did. Ryan's offense is, without question, far better than it was even upon his arrival with the exception of his offensive line. That is one facet of the game he was spoiled by in New York and one he'll have to coach around. The acquisitions of LeSean McCoy and Percy Harvin round out a talented skill position group that, at least individually, is among the top five in football. Still, a capable coordinator, a serviceable quarterback in Matt Cassel and three of the 20 most explosive players in the NFL? All we can hope for now is for Ryan to dust off his "kiss the rings" speech.

It's hard not to think of the Dolphins as a team perennially on the edge of a massive collapse and we can't help but think this is a make-or-break year for a lot of key players there. No spotlight is brighter than the one shining on Ryan Tannehill, especially if he inks the mega-extension he's been working on this offseason, giving Miami a pair of players that will likely eclipse the $200 million mark combined. If Tannehill works out, Tannenbaum has to feel good about the foundation of his roster and what lies ahead. If he ponies up and pays Tannehill, only to see the weight of the contract crush the former first-rounder, then the former Jets executive will have to deal with the pain of doling out two pretty awful deals to quarterbacks. This, of course, after he dealt Tannehill's most explosive target to the Vikings and traded for Kenny Stills. Aside from Tannehill, though, the Ndamukong Suh deal places an incredible amount of pressure on the team to make a leap and contend for the division this year.

The Patriots will be fascinating to watch through the draft if only because they've successfully churned their roster so many times already. Keeping Devin McCourty while flirting with Reggie Bush before he signed with the 49ers, shows they aren't afraid to spend on the right players.

More importantly, how does Belichick buffer his offense to face off against three brutal front-sevens twice a year? What will his counter be to all the noise being made by his counterparts in free agency? Perhaps the Patriots will be a sleeping tiger now that the market is officially open and they'll load up for one last (reasonable) title shot in the Brady-Belichick era.

With all of the madness already circling the most entertaining division in football, wouldn't that truly be something?

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down DeMarco Murray's move to the Eagles and breaks down which teams have been wise in free agency. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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