Will Darnold, Allen, Tagovailoa, or Newton be the best QB in the AFC East?

Josh Allen, Sam Darnold
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (right) and Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (left). (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

In a move many saw coming during the NFL’s offseason, Cam Newton signed a one-year, incentive-laden deal with the New England Patriots late Monday night to provide the team with a legitimate replacement for Tom Brady.

The former Carolina Panthers star, who won the 2015 NFL MVP and an NFC title, has a golden opportunity to reignite his career under the “show me” deal — especially on a Patriots team that has dominated the AFC East for the 20 years Brady and head coach Bill Belichick were together.

Brady’s departure for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March suggested that the Patriots’ run of domination over the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Miami Dolphins was coming to an end; or at least that the AFC East would be wide-open.

The signing of Newton doesn’t necessarily ensure the Patriots remain in power as they go for an 18th division crown since 2001 considering the question marks that surround the 31-year-old.

Injuries limited him to just two games last season and an aging frame has taken a beating in Carolina, which only adds more doubt to a quarterback that always struggled with accuracy issues. But Newton was one of the most explosive players in football when healthy as a dual-threat passer that revolutionizes an offense that is properly built around him.

There is no denying that Belichick can do just that with him.

But does that automatically make Newton the top quarterback in the AFC East? He certainly becomes the elder statesman of a young group that holds plenty of promise.

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold has yet to play a full 16-game season in his first two NFL seasons. Regardless, he’s continued to trend upward in his development, passing for 3,024 yards with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season.

The loss of Robby Anderson in free agency to the Panthers took away his largest outside threat, but the Jets drafted the promising Denzel Mims out of Baylor to join a wide-receiver core that will also contain Jamison Crowder and the newly-signed Breshad Perriman.

Darnold is as close to a pure dropback passer you’ll find in the AFC East, which makes him one-dimensional on paper given the recent run of success from dual-threat quarterbacks ranging from Lamar Jackson to Patrick Mahomes. But that developing arm talent will provide the hope that he will be the Jets’ true golden boy under center.

It remains to be seen though if that will be enough to outperform Newton in New England in 2020.

In Buffalo, Josh Allen helped lead the Bills to a rare playoff appearance in a season that saw him take significant steps forward.

He won’t light up the stat sheet — his 3,089 yards and 20 touchdowns in 16 games suggests that — but a defensively-gifted Bills team need nothing more than a game manager under center. Allen has proved to be just that already, but a few offensive improvements to supplement his ability to scramble would make Buffalo a scary team quickly.

The Dolphins have a former Jet and Bill keeping the starting spot under center warm for now with Ryan Fitzpatrick, but it’s just a matter of time until rookie Tua Tagovailoa takes over in Miami.

His injured hip seems 100% healthy and his skillset suggests that he will be a playmaking QB like Jackson, Mahomes, or Kyler Murray — the latter making an immediate impact during his rookie campaign last season with the Arizona Cardinals. Dolphins fans will be hoping Tagovailoa will have that same kind of impact.