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Patriots use creative moves to get even better in free agency

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Patriots punching SB LII ticket in offseason (0:55)

Bob Ryan explains why New England's offseason moves are setting the Pats up for another Super Bowl run. (0:55)

Which team in the division improved itself most through free agency? ESPN's AFC East reporters make their picks:

Rich Cimini, New York Jets reporter: The Patriots, who else? In a classic case of the rich getting richer, Bill Belichick added three key pieces in corner Stephon Gilmore, wide receiver Brandin Cooks (trade) and tight end Dwayne Allen (trade). As a receiver, Allen isn't as good as the departed Martellus Bennett, but maybe the Patriots will become more receiver-oriented with Cooks in the fold. Plus, can they really count on Rob Gronkowski to be the same old Gronk at tight end? The Patriots would have a nice tandem at cornerback if they pair Gilmore with Malcolm Butler, but Butler's future is up in the air. After the Patriots, I'd say the Dolphins are No. 2. They retained some of their core players and traded for tight end Julius Thomas, who could have a career renaissance in his reunion with Adam Gase.

Mike Reiss, New England Patriots reporter: If we include trades, I'd lean toward the Patriots (WR Brandin Cooks, TE Dwayne Allen, DE Kony Ealy). If it's just free agency, I view the Bills as having a sneaky good free-agent period, specifically with the signing of Packers defensive back Micah Hyde. I thought he was one of the more underrated players on the market given his versatility and the way more of the game is being played in sub packages these days. And with coach Sean McDermott looking to establish an identity of the type of team he wants to have, that move -- coupled with the restructured contract of quarterback Tyrod Taylor -- was solid from my view.

Mike Rodak, Buffalo Bills reporter: It is tough to hand this to any team but the Patriots, who are widely considered to be the NFL's "winners" from the initial wave of free agency. Unlike the Bills and Jets, who began the offseason cutting veteran players because of tight salary-cap situations, the Patriots had plenty of cap space and used it to both retain some of their best players (Dont'a Hightower), bring in new pieces (Stephon Gilmore) and pick up other players via trades (Brandin Cooks, Kony Ealy). To me, the Dolphins would be the second-place finishers in this category after adding versatile linebacker Lawrence Timmons. I see Miami as the Patriots' top competition this season, and I'm not sure the Bills or especially the Jets are close.

James Walker, Miami Dolphins reporter: I thought the New England Patriots couldn't get much better coming off another Super Bowl title. It turns out I was wrong with that assessment. The Patriots, on paper, already are a stronger team than last season after making several shrewd moves in free agency. They signed Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore away from the division rival Buffalo Bills, traded for explosive receiver Brandin Cooks and pass-rusher Kony Ealy, and retained their best in-house free agent in linebacker Dont'a Hightower. In March, it already feels as if the Dolphins, Bills and Jets are battling it out for second place in the AFC East. In fact, the division has been that way for most of the past 16 years. Therefore, no one should be surprised.