Think their AFC East rivals are slightly panicked seeing the New England Patriots armed with assets and likely in the hunt for a quarterback in the upcoming draft?

If they aren’t nervous, they should be.

Given what’s at stake, the decision-makers of the Jets, Bills and Dolphins were probably cursing privately after seeing Patriots Coach Bill Belichick pull off the recent Brandin Cooks deal with the Rams. The No. 23 overall pick gained for Cooks gave the Patriots two first rounders (along with No. 31) in this year’s draft and the ammunition – along with their pair of second rounders – to move up the board for one of the top quarterbacks if they’re so inclined.

Having Belichick lurking in the weeds, possibly poised to pounce on a quarterback, is not what his AFC East opponents were looking for. Even if Belichick doesn’t make a move, it’s enough to spook them.

After all, the three have chased the Patriots with futility since 2001, largely because the Patriots have had Tom Brady while none of the others have had anything resembling an elite quarterback.

This year, the Jets (with pick No. 3), Dolphins (No. 11) and Bills (No. 12) are primed to finally get their answer to Brady. There isn’t much question about the Jets’ intentions. They traded up from No. 6 because they see the chance to draft their franchise guy.

The Bills also zipped up the board, from 21, and have the assets to possibly make another move for their franchise guy. They didn’t feel Tyrod Taylor was the answer and traded him to the Browns while acquiring A.J. McCarron from the Bengals, but McCarron is merely a placeholder for this upcoming pick.

As for the Dolphins, they still have Ryan Tannehill, the eighth overall selection in 2012, but he hasn’t exactly lit the NFL on fire. The Dolphins have only been to the playoffs once since his arrival, and he’s been hurt quite a bit. It’s conceivable they’ll try to hit the big ticket again, especially in this quarterback-rich draft.

After trading Cooks, the Patriots also could land a quarterback of the future, either with one of their first-round picks or their two in the second round. Wouldn’t it just be a hoot if they wound up with the best of the lot? Talk about rubbing salt in the wound.

“It’s one thing to draft a guy. It’s another thing to put him in an environment where he can thrive with coaches, the surrounding cast, the system, and maximize a guy’s potential,” ESPN analyst Damien Woody said last week. “The Patriots drafted (Jimmy) Garoppolo in the second round and he looks like he’s on his way. They took Jacoby Brissett in the third round and he turned into a decent starter with the Colts. Hey, if I’m in the division, I’m scared, because that’s the one thing the Patriots have been able to do with these quarterback prospects they’ve had in the past.”

AFTER NOT shooting down reports following the Super Bowl that he could retire from football, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will not report to the beginning of New England’s offseason program Monday, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

In the immediate aftermath of his team’s Super Bowl loss to the Eagles in February, the 28-year-old tight end hinted in his postgame interview that he may step away from the sport.

“I’m definitely gonna look at my future, for sure,” Gronkowski told reporters. “I’ll sit down in the next couple of weeks and see where I’m at.”

Last season, the Patriots tight end had 1,084 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 14 regular-season games.