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After Tom Brady's Departure, Sam Darnold Vaults to a Surprising Position 

At 22, Jets QB Now the Longest Tenured Starting QB in the AFC East


Tom Brady is no longer a Patriot and thus Sam Darnold has a title change. With Brady making his move to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers official Friday, the 22-year-old Darnold became the longest-tenured starting quarterback inside the division.

Darnold, a USC product who was selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, became the Jets' No. 1 when the then-rookie took the ball in the Green & White's Week 1 throttling of the Lions in Detroit on Sep. 9. On that same weekend, Bills rookie Josh Allen, a Wyoming product taken by Buffalo four picks behind Darnold, finished in a mop-up role when he replaced Nathan Peterman in a Ravens' rout. Allen became the Bills' full-time signal-caller the following week.

Journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 37-year-old who has started for eight NFL teams including the Jets in 2015-16, has more experience than the rest of the division passers combined (including backups). The 37-year-old took the offensive reins for the Dolphins last year, making 13 starts and passing for 3,500 yards. He sits atop their depth chart this spring, but many pundits believe Miami could be poised to target a QB early in April's draft.

Fitzpatrick, ironically, handed Brady a loss in the latter's final home regular-season contest at Gillette Stadium. Fitzy tossed a touchdown pass in the final seconds to give the visiting Dolphins a 27-24 win in Week 17, forcing the Pats into action Wild Card Weekend against the Titans. The Patriots ended up losing that contest too and Brady's final Pat pass resulted in a pick-six for former New England defensive back Logan Ryan. His illustrious Patriots career is over after six Super Bowl wins, nine title game appearances and an unprecedented stranglehold on the division. Since 2003, the Patriots have claimed each AFC East title minus 2008 — the year Brady tore his ACL in the first game of the season.

The 43-year-old Brady made his news official Friday morning on Instagram:

"I have always believed that well done is better than well said, so I'm gonna not gonna say much more — I'm just gonna get to work! #Year1"

The question that remains is who is going to take Brady's place for Bill Belichick? A fourth-round pick in 2019, Jarrett Stidham threw four passes last year including one that resulted in Jets All-Pro Jamal Adams' first-career pick-six. Stidham may be in line to take over or the Pats could look at someone like Jameis Winston or even explore the trade route with a veteran like Andy Dalton (CIN), Cam Newton (CAR) or Jacoby Brissett (IND).

Jets GM Joe Douglas has been hard at work early in free agency, solidifying the offensive line in front of the longest-tenured starting QB in the AFC East. As perhaps the greatest signal-caller in pro football history joins the Buccaneers, the Jets are doing everything they can to help their franchise passer take the next step. News outlets have already reported Jets' agreements in principles with offensive linemen: LG Alex Lewis, T George Fant (Seattle Seahawks) and C/G Connor McGovern (Denver Broncos).

"The O-line is definitely going to be a priority for this organization," Douglas said in February. "The main goal is to protect Sam. When Sam has a clean look, a clean pocket, we've seen how deadly accurate he is as a passer. I think the emphasis will be control the line of scrimmage."

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