The complexion of the AFC East seemingly changed Monday when Tom Brady announced he would not return to the New England Patriots for a 21st season.

Brady hasn’t decided yet where he’ll sign in free agency, but the quarterback made it clear he’s taking his talents elsewhere after a two-decade run with the Pats that included six Super Bowl titles.

While the decision ultimately was Brady’s, it’s fair to question whether the Patriots could have convinced him to stay had they approached his contract situation differently. Instead, New England reportedly made no “tangible effort” to re-sign the 42-year-old, placing the ball in his court with regards to free agency.

Rex Ryan, who faced Brady more than any other head coach in NFL history, believes the Patriots made a “huge mistake” by letting their longtime face of the franchise get away. Ryan believes the 2020 season could be a wakeup call for New England.

“I still think Tom Brady is one of the elite quarterbacks in the league, and his situation (last season): Guys, he put his team in the playoffs. If they beat Miami the last week of the regular season, they’re the No. 2 seed. That speaks volumes,” Ryan said on Tuesday’s episode of “Get Up” on ESPN. “Yes, they played well on defense, but offensively, they had Tom Brady and, uh, that’s right, nobody else. No offensive line. No receivers. I’m telling you, it was a mess, and yet he still led his team. And so to me, that’s what he still brings to the table out there to the team that’s gonna sign him. I think Tom Brady is still a terrific quarterback and I think it’s a huge mistake for New England.

“I can say this: Every single team in the AFC East right now thinks they have a chance of winning, and that’s not the case back in the day. Yeah, I believe I’d win. But the other teams, there’s no way in heck they believed they’d beat the Patriots with Tom Brady. So, to me, no Tom Brady, New England you’re just like everybody else now.”

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Ryan shared a division with Brady, having coached the New York Jets for six seasons (2009-14) and the Buffalo Bills for two seasons (2015-16). He knows the difficulty of facing arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history and that finding a viable replacement is no small task.

“Whoever it is, it ain’t gonna be close. It’s not gonna be the same,” Ryan said. “And so to me, do they start over? Do they try to draft guy? Who knows? But I can tell you this: I don’t think they realize how huge a loss this is gonna be. It’s easy to dismiss — ‘Well, Tom Brady’s getting older, he’s old, this and that.’ Yeah, he was still the best player you had on offense. So to me, I’m excited to see the demise of the Patriots, so to speak.”

The rest of the AFC East probably smells blood in the water after Brady’s departure, and it’ll be fascinating to see how Bill Belichick and Co. navigate moving forward.

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