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    One key to Patriots’ success? Recruiting players from AFC East foes

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    The NFL announced on Monday that Tom Brady’s jersey from Super Bowl LI has been found after an international investigation.
    USA TODAY Sports

    The New England Patriots have dominated the NFL in the 21st century for a plethora of reasons. But there’s one tactic they deftly employ perhaps better than anyone else in the league: using free agency to poach key players from their division rivals.

    “Oh, there’s no question they do that,” former Patriots tackle and current ESPN analyst Damien Woody told USA TODAY Sports.

    “What they do is try to see if there are players who can fit a role on their team. And then they’ll scan the league with their player personnel department. If there’s a match, then they’ll explore if they’ll fit in the building and in the locker room. If the price is right, they’re in business.

    “But the Patriots? They know that by taking some of their division rivals’ best players they’re doing two things: they’re helping them(selves), and they’re hurting you.”

    MORE COVERAGE

    The Patriots are 76-22 (.776) in the regular season since 2001 against their AFC East foes. That’s the top mark in the NFL in that span. Since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000, the franchise has won five Super Bowls and appeared in seven. They have won 14 division titles, including the last eight in a row (an NFL record).

    A big reason for their dominance is shrewd roster development, which includes fostering intradivision defections. The latest player is former Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore, widely considered to be one of the top two…

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