(CBS Miami) -- The Miami Dolphins last won the AFC East in 2008. The division has belonged to the New England Patriots for over a decade, with the Buffalo Bills making a little noise last season. The New York Jets have been an afterthought, albeit an interesting one.
But this season could be different. For starters, the AFC East is wide open. Tom Brady is no longer the Patriots quarterback. And it's unclear whether the duo of Bill Belichick and Cam Newton, who will take over, will be as effective. The Bills, coming off a wild card appearance, are legitimate contenders. And the Jets should show some improvement.
Most importantly, the Fins have made the right moves to set themselves up for a bright future. The team had six picks among the first 70 of the NFL Draft. That included projected quarterback of the future Tua Tagovailoa, who will start the season behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, along with multiple offensive linemen and defensive backs.
"The one thing I think about the Dolphins is they have a chance to make a really big leap," says NFL on CBS lead analyst Tony Romo. "They're probably going to be a year way from making the leap to possibly being able to contend for a championship. When I say that, teams have done it before. When you get six picks in the top 70, and what they've done in free agency..."
The Dolphins were also very active in free agency, adding 10 potential contributors. The most notable is elite corner Byron Jones, who came over from the Cowboys to strengthen the defensive backfield. Kyle Van Noy steps in at linebacker/edge rusher. And Ereck Flowers comes over from Washington to boost the offensive line. The list also includes Clayton Fejedelem, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Jordan Howard, Ted Karras, Shaq Lawson, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Elandon Roberts.
"What they're doing is they're building it the right way," says Romo. "I really feel like you're going to see Miami come on. They'll be better this year. There's no question they're going to be a much-improved football team. But the way they're doing it is what I'm most impressed with. And I think you're going to see them develop. You all remember that the 49ers were bad for a little bit, and then really good. They kept building that defensive line and offensive line. They did the things that win in the National Football League. We have a coach that comes from the Belichick tree, so he's going to be a little more man-oriented. They need cover corners, so they went and got Byron Jones. They drafted Noah [Igbinoghene] very early."
How all the new pieces come together remains to be seen. The Dolphins, like the rest of the NFL, had their preseason canceled due to COVID-19. But the team's future should start to come into focus this Sunday, when they open their season in Foxboro against the Patriots.
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