- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Most would probably agree that the AFC East has become a tougher division this offseason, specifically with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins making some headline-grabbing news.
Once the three-day frenzy of the NFL draft had concluded, I was interested to read up on the activity of those clubs in relation to the Patriots.
A strong link quickly emerged between the three teams: Locker room chemistry issues.
Patriots fans have heard plenty about locker room chemistry and how it played a part in the disappointing end to the 2009 season. Turns out they aren't alone.
Several players admitted leadership was an issue inside the Dolphins' locker room during a 2009 season that was as tumultuous as it was disappointing.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland and his scouts seemed to place a huge premium on that trait in this year's NFL Draft.
Of the eight players the Dolphins selected, including five more as it wrapped up on Saturday, all but one (Georgia safety Reshad Jones) was voted a permanent captain by his teammates. And in Jones' case, the Bulldogs picked their captains week to week.
The NFL draft is supposed to be a time of renewed hope, a chance for every team to exchange a figurative high-five with its fan base. The Jets had that feeling last year, when they made the bold move for Mark Sanchez. But not this year, not after the D-Day purge that claimed Leon Washington and Alan Faneca, the latest casualties in a stunning offseason.
"It's a sad day," one veteran player said. "I'm not sure if I'm going to recognize our team anymore." ...
"We're like one-year mercenaries, going for broke," another player said. "You're messing with something a lot of teams wish they had -- chemistry."
ANALYSIS: Stories like these highlight the human element of putting a team together, and probably explain why former Patriots Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli often used to remind himself that he was building a team, and not simply collecting talent. Accounting for the locker-room mix is part of that equation. A general manager or coach simply can't order up a harmonious locker room, but the hope is that by filling it with the right people, a winning mix is created. Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in March that he believes games are often won or lost before a team takes the field, meaning that a strong locker room can propel a team to new heights, while a bad locker room can quickly sink a team regardless of its talent. This will be one of the compelling storylines to follow in the AFC East this year.