Apparently the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are about to release star Cornerback Darrelle Revis, who fits neither any logical payroll construction nor the Buccaneers defensive scheme. Revis is set to earn $16 million in 2014, $1.5 million of which is paid if he is on a roster on Wednesday. If released this will go down as one of the all time worst trades in the NFL with Tampa Bay surrendering a first and fourth round draft pick for a player who lasted all of one season in which the team struggled and seemed to not have a clue how to use Revis to the best of his abilities.
Revis is a player that I have discussed many times here and on the Jets cap site I run, so Im somewhat familiar with many of the things that seem to drive him from a contractual standpoint. As I speculated last year when he made the deal, this was a contract that could see a coach and GM fired, which is exactly what happened. There were rumblings last year that he was on the trading block and, quite honestly, that was the time to trade him. Now they will likely need to release him which will put the best cornerback in the NFL on the free agent market for the first time in his career.
Revis has always had a difficult time accepting his place within the financial constraint of his team. The seeds of frustrating contract negotiations began when the Jets drafted Revis in 2007 as the two sides had a bitter battle over the length of his contract. In the end the Jets basically paid him an upside value that would be similar to the tenth pick in the draft rather than the 14th. Revis ended up being the best player drafted that year and exploded when he was paired up with Rex Ryan, who gave Revis more freedom that any other defensive player in the NFL. That led to contract holdup number two.
With three years remaining on his rookie contract Revis held out in 2010 looking for a new contract. Revis saw the salary being paid to Nnamdi Asomugha of the Raiders and wanted a similar contract. The Jets refused basically stating that the Asomugha contract was an outlier and that Revis was already under contract. Eventually the two sides settled with Revis matching the two year Asomugha value ($32.5 million) and receiving $40 million over three years. To make Revis fit in the Jets salary cap the Jets added three voidable seasons onto the contract to allow for further proration of bonus money. Revis called it a “band aid” contract while the Jets just hoped they could get through four years without interruption, by adding significant holdout protection into the contract.
In 2012 there were rumblings that as the cash flows of the contract were about to slow down, Revis was prepared to hold out again. The Jets made it clear that they were protected and Revis wound up reporting and unfortunately getting injured that season. The Jets season fell apart and there was a major front office shakeup. With Revis’ contract now seeing the leverage begin to shift to Revis due to high dead money charges about to hit the cap if he became a free agent in 2014, the Jets opted to trade him, knowing the negotiation that was about to take place if they kept him in a rebuilding year.
To Revis’ credit he never wavered from his demands of being paid $16 million a year to justify being the best defensive player in the NFL. That number was incredibly important to Revis, so much so that he was willing to take a contract with no guaranteed money in it to get the $16 million annual value. Revis likely would have received at least $40 million in guarantees on a standard contract that would have made him the highest paid corner, but not highest paid player.
The Buccaneers were the only team to show any real interest at that price. The Jets fleeced the Bucs by holding strong on a price, even paying Revis $1 million in order to hold leverage over the Buccaneers. It was highway robbery, even moreso than the Raiders decision to trade for a retired Carson Palmer- Palmer was at least a QB and he would not get money like Revis.
The difficulty with Revis’ contract is that he was earning $6 million more per season than the next highest paid corner in the NFL (Champ Bailey at the time). It is virtually impossible for any player to justify that kind of price differential. It was why the price tag for Mario Williams of the Bills is easier to swallow since there are a few pass rushers earning in the $13-14 million range. These “position busters” in the NFL usually damage teams rather than help them in the long term.
The Buccaneers never figured out how to use Revis. Without Ryan as the coach Revis floundered in zone schemes that let teams dictate the matchup against Revis rather than the defense dictating the matchup by putting Revis on whomever he wanted on every snap. That would only get worse with new coach Lovie Smith who is going to run zone almost exclusively. A $16 million player essentially playing a $7 million role is pointless. So for the Bucs it makes sense to move on rather than chasing a bad contract, especially knowing that Revis was probably going to want more job security through guarantees.
Would anyone trade for Revis? Probably not. My contention is that in the NFL there is so much uncertainty every year that you can’t justify paying him $16 million and then wind up a 4 win team like the Buccaneers were. If you know you are having a good season, which most can tell before the trade deadline, you can rent him at $1 million a week for the remainder of the year without hesitation. For the Bucs to find a trade partner I think they would need to eat at least $3 million in offseason bonuses and even then it might be difficult.
What is Revis worth in free agency? Well that should be interesting. I always assumed he would max out around $13 million a year before the Bucs got involved and I still think that is where the market should be, but with Sam Shields recently getting a huge deal maybe that changes. Teams have had a few days to discuss deals with free agents so they should have a good idea if the Shields deal is an outlier or a sign of things to come. If an outlier Revis is probably going to end up taking the same type of deal the Jets wanted- $12 million a year with a good amount guaranteed.
Any team that signs Revis is going to have to be aware than any contract signed will be one he is likely happy with “for now” and might require negotiating and posturing in the future. At this point everyone in the NFL has to be aware of this and if not then they deserve whatever unexpected issues they might get. Who are some teams I think would interested in Revis?
Broncos– The Broncos made a big investment in Peyton Manning so why not Revis? The recently parted ways with Bailey who counted $10 million against the cap so Revis at $13 million might be a strong fit. The catch here is that Denver likely wont guarantee much beyond two years for Revis and he might find a better landing spot. Denver should have around $30 million in cap room.
49ers– San Francisco would make great use of Revis in their defense and give him more freedom to play. They clearly need a corner and he might push them over the top. Negatively they do not do the kind of contract that Revis would be happy with. San Francisco used incentivized roster bonuses for star players and they try to drive annual values down. That said they just used the “void year” strategy with Anquan Boldin which I think shows a sign of a tiny bit of desperation to get over the hump now even if means sacrificing the future. San Francisco is also tight on cap room and has a QB they want to lock up long term so they would need to go big on prorated bonuses for Revis.
Browns– $49 million in cap room and a coach who knows Revis very well. Pairing Revis with Joe Haden would make the best corner tandem in the NFL and allow the Browns a chance to snuff teams out on defense while they find an offensive identity. The Browns are prepared to pay over $10 million to Alex Mack so they clearly don’t care as much about positional valuations as other teams. They might do a similar deal to the one he had with Tampa albeit at a lower value.
Colts– No team in the NFL wants to make a bigger splash, not even the Cowboys, than the Colts. The team has money and cap to spend and has shown a real willingness to do so. Their top corner might be lost to free agency but who better to replace him with than a superior player in Revis. As long as they plan to only have Revis and Luck on extensions for one season they can make the numbers work.
Giants– Slowly but surely the Giants are opening up a great deal of cap room and they have a few more players that could be restructured if they wanted to make this move. The Giants I think are much more than one player away, and a Revis signing might limit what else they can do, but this is a team looking for a corner and there won’t be one better than Revis.
Jets– I think there is a lot of bad blood here but Revis would be welcomed back with open arms by Ryan and the fanbase provided the numbers are right on the contract. If Revis is concerned with legacy at all then this is probably the best pairing he can have in the NFL. The Jets have loads of cap room and need to spend something this year. Doubt they consider anything more than $12 million a season. It would certainly be a strange ending to the cycle.
Im sure other teams will send out feelers as well. The Raiders have room, but Revis is probably too expensive for where they are in their program. The Patriots could get involved but they have hesitated to put this kind of money into the corner position. The Saints and Cowboys would love him but I can’t picture a way to make that work at least for more than one season.
Regardless it should be a fun few days to see play out. For the last four years we have talked about what if’s about the price a team should pay for a corner. Now we get to see the marketplace at work to finally let us know what kind of money should a great player make relative to his peers. Free agency just got a lot more interesting.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.