Staying true to his increasingly-accurate reputation of being a mercenary of sorts in the NFL, cornerback Darrelle Revis decided to leave the New England Patriots—where he won a Super Bowl in his first season with the team—to return to the team that drafted him, and where he made a name for himself: the New York Jets. Revis agreed to a 5-year, $70 million deal with Gang Green on Tuesday night, with $39 million guaranteed. His decision adds to a slew of moves orchestrated by New England’s AFC East rivals that are casting doubt in the minds of many that the Pats can roll through the AFC East next season like they always do.
With apologies to Richard Sherman, Darrelle Revis is unquestionably the top defensive back in all of football. The University of Pittsburgh product has been nothing but consistently excellent in his 8-year NFL career, sans an ACL tear during his brief stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two seasons ago. Week in and week out he is pitted against the opposing teams #1 wide receiver, and shuts them down, thus earning the nickname, “Revis Island”, for making his opponents disappear on the field.
After being released by the Buccaneers after the 2013 season, Revis signed with New England, the archrival of the Jets. He had a great season for the team, and was a key reason why the Pats wound up winning Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona. On the season, playing all 16 games, Revis notched two interceptions, 16 passes defended, one forced fumble and 47 tackles. He was named 1st-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, his fourth time being selected to the team.
His addition to Bill Belichick’s defense allowed Belichick to get creative with his defensive schemes without worrying about the opposing team’s top receiver. In past years, New England’s secondary has been what kept them from reaching the Super Bowl, but in Revis’s first season with the team he gave them flexibility and skill that they hadn’t had at the position since the days of Ty Law or Asante Samuel. The loss of Revis will greatly affect New England’s defense, which was ranked 11th in DVOA in 2014, according to Football Outsiders.
So what does this signing mean for the Jets? Well, they just signed the top defensive player on the open market (sorry, Ndamukong Suh). Rex Ryan is probably sitting at a bar right now playing darts with a picture of Woody Johnson’s face on the dartboard. Ryan pushed for the team to re-sign the cornerback after he was released by Tampa Bay, but ex-GM John Idzik was unwilling to commit the necessary resources. The Jets finally have a secondary that can complement their fearsome front seven, which features Mo Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Quintin Coples and David Harris. New head coach Todd Bowles will be able to be as creative with his defensive schemes as he was with the Arizona Cardinals, and should be able to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. The Jets secondary went from relying on Dexter McDougle to having Darrelle Revis, Buster Skrine, and Dee Milliner as its top three cornerbacks.
The Jets still have a lot of work to do. It is going to be tough for any team in the AFC East to unseat Tom Brady and Belichick from their throne atop the division without an established quarterback to lead them. Miami, with Ryan Tannehill, is the closest, but even Tannehill has a ways to go before he can be trusted to lead an offense. Besides quarterback, new general manager Mike Maccagnan needs to firm up a shaky OL, improve the linebacking corps, and find better safety play. Trading for Brandon Marshall and adding Revis were positive steps, but the Jets are not going to compete for a Super Bowl with the roster as it is currently. They added an aging wide receiver in Marshall who, while talented, is an injury concern, and can be a loose cannon off the field at times. Revis, while being the league’s best cornerback, is 30 years old. He had to take off multiple practices during his time with the Pats in order to rest his legs. Giving $39 million guaranteed to a CB who has torn an ACL and is on the back end of his career is very risky, and it is clearly a risk Bill Belichick did not feel confident in taking. If the Jets are giving Revis and 33-year-old LB David Harris a combined $55 million in guaranteed money, what does that leave for 25-year-old stud defensive lineman Mo Wilkerson? If the Jets were on the precipice of Super Bowl contention, these moves would make all the sense in the world. But for a rebuilding team that isn’t going to contend for a couple of years, these stars will not be able to carry the team to the Super Bowl in a couple of years with declining skills and aging bodies.
Don’t forget, a year ago from today, Aqib Talib spurned the Patriots and signed with the rival Denver Broncos. New England fans all over were frustrated and displeased that the Patriots didn’t pony up some extra money to keep Talib and prevent him from helping the team that beat them in the 2013 AFC Championship. However, 24 hours later, Darrelle Revis was signed by New England, and the angst in New England vanished. Now, obviously, the Patriots cannot replace Revis, as he’s the definition of an irreplaceable player. But, like always, Bill Belichick has a plan.
With Belichick, it’s all about finding value. The Patriots never take part in the first couple of days of the free agent frenzy because they let other teams overspend on players and ruin their salary cap flexibility for years to come. The Pats enter the fray when things have settled and they know the market value for players. Just last offseason, Belichick signed Patrick Chung and Brandon Lafell to below-market deals, and both players were key parts in helping the team win the Super Bowl. He finds players who have low market values, utilizes them according to their strengths and doesn’t ask them to do any more or any less. He just wants them to do their job.
In the end, Darrelle Revis proved no different from any other player under the Belichick regime. There is no one better than Bill Belichick at determining a player’s market value. Does that mean he gets every player he wants for cheap deals? Of course not. But it does mean that he makes smart decisions in terms of determining which players to retain and which ones to let walk. It is this efficiency that has kept New England’s salary cap clean for all these years. Usually, teams that have the most success are right up against the cap and have reduced flexibility in future seasons. But New England always maintains a healthy amount of flexibility, and Belichick’s smart cap management benefits the team in the long-term by allowing them to draft, develop, and retain players, as well as add players in free agency if there is a glaring need, like Revis last year.
It is clear that Belichick set a number for what he believed Revis’s value was to the team, and he did not budge off of it. Reports are out that say New England pulled out of the Revis bidding on Monday, unbeknownst to the Jets. It is tough to see a player of Revis’s caliber walk back to the New York Jets, but this decision by New England will allow it to spend on the players it has now. New England now has added cap space that it can spend to improve other positions, and it can save future cap money to spend later on players it has now, such as Nate Solder, Chandler Jones, or Dont’a Hightower, who are all due for contract extensions soon.
From a New England fan’s perspective, it is tough to see a player abandon a shot at another ring for more money, and it is fair to be angry at the player. But one also needs to understand that in a league where players’ careers can end in one play, they need to earn all the money they can. Darrelle Revis and his representatives have maneuvered about free agency perfectly, and it has set him up very well financially. With this new contract, Revis will have earned a minimum of $132 million in his career, with that number jumping to $155 million if he plays the entire duration of his contract.
The Jets undoubtedly helped their team, and many would argue that they had to, as the public perception of the team could not be much lower at this point. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick sits in his office at Gillette stadium, concocting an alternative plan that will help keep his team on top of the AFC for years to come.
Image courtesy of opposingviews.com
Georgetown Class of 2018