The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ season that is spiraling out of control brought up a number of questions last night about the future of CB Darrelle Revis in Tampa, so I thought this might be a good time to look at the situation from a few angles.
The Revis Contract
I’ve covered Revis’ contract battles pretty extensively on my nyjetscap site and then again here when Revis moved to Tampa Bay, so I’m at least somewhat familiar with the battles he has had with the Jets in the past. Revis’ side had always been motivated by the ultimate in dollar signs. Not that this is any great revelation and most people in life want to make the most that they can, but it always came across as extremely important to their team, more than any other player I can remember.
As a rookie Revis had a difficult time agreeing to a contract with a fight over years and money which eventually led to him signing a contract that busted the draft slot salary about 3 or 4 positions(meaning that Revis’ 14th slot had the chance to be paid like the 10th or 11th pick). Just three years later he held out looking for a contract that would surpass the annual value of Nnamdi Asomugha’s deal with the Oakland Raiders. In this case a compromise was reached where Revis would earn the same two year annual value of Asomugha’s contract but not the overall annual value. This was when phrases like “QB of the defense” began to arise and it was clear that the end game was to be paid at a level similar to that of a QB.
In 2012 pass rusher Mario Williams signed a record setting $16 million dollar a year contract with the Buffalo Bills giving Revis a new number to aim for. Another holdout was threatened but the Jets held some contractual power that saw Revis take the field and unfortunately injure his knee right at the start of the season. New York knew that the contract would become an issue in 2013 and prepared for life without Revis. Their goal was to find a team desperate enough to not just trade a high draft pick but pay him the $16 million dollar a year figure.
The Buccaneers were willing to deal with Revis and the Jets but there was a condition attached- if Revis wanted to be the highest paid defensive player in the NFL they would not include any guarantees in his contract. Williams had received nearly $25 million in full guarantees upon signing and $50 million in total guarantees on his $96 million dollar deal. For Revis, who fought with the Jets over guaranteed salary offers in 2010, that $16 million dollar number was so important that he was willing to take no guaranteed money in his contract.
Revis’ contract is not that different in structure than many of the Buccaneers contracts in that no signing bonus is included. However, most of the players have guaranteed base salaries for the first two years of their contracts. Revis does not. His contract contains an annual payout of $16 million each year. If Revis is cut the cost to the Buccaneers is zero on the salary cap. If Revis is traded the cost is zero on the salary cap. So Tampa left themselves many avenues to easily escape the deal.
Tampa Bay certainly looked like an intriguing team this year. They were competitive last year and had sunk considerable money into their offensive line, wide receivers, and secondary with the addition of Revis and Safety Dashon Goldson. They had other talented players via the draft as well.
Unfortunately for Tampa the Quarterback situation blew up on the team and the team has seemingly lost faith in their head coach Greg Schiano. At 0-7 and pretty much non-competitive the last few weeks the team could be in line for a major shakeup. GM Mark Dominik, who has been in that role since 2009, has only once delivered a winning record and will have gone through two hires in the last five years. It is debatable if he gets to hire a third coach.
Dominik has structured the roster in a way where they can create millions in cap space by moving on from a number of “name” value players. The question for Tampa becomes do they believe that just the coach is a problem or that the organization is fundamentally flawed? If the answer is the former then expect Dominik to bring in a more experienced coach and to hit free agency or trades to bring in a Jay Cutler and go the route that the Arizona Cardinals are trying with Carson Palmer. If the answer is the latter then expect a number of roster moves, one of whom could be Revis.
The Buccaneers have already parted with a number 1 pick for Revis. They also owe the Jets a 3rd round pick in 2014 provided that Revis is on the Buccaneers roster beyond the 3rd day of the 2014 League Year. If he is not the draft pick falls to a 4th. Tampa has a strong probabilty to be the top pick in the NFL draft making the 3rd rounder much more valuable than Tampa ever considered. If Revis is moved that pick drops to a 4th rounder. For a team potentially rebuilding that could be a point worth considering.
From the Buccaneers point of view their best chance to trade Revis would be to make a mad dash to the phones and get a deal done over the weekend. Revis would cost a team $6.88 million for the remainder of the season. A few teams can take on that cap figure including the Bills, whose defensive coordinator has a relationship with Revis, Packers, Dolphins, and Eagles. Green Bay and Miami are both playoff contenders.
If Revis is going to cost the Buccaneers at least a 4thround pick next year it might be worth seeing if someone is willing to take on Revis for a playoff run for a 2ndor 3rd round pick to lessen the blow. That trade possibility will only exist, in my opinion, if a trade is made now for the stretch run rental. If they wait until next season there will be no trade market. We’ll touch on that aspect of this below.
The Value of the Non-QB Position
The average quarterback contract for a starter in the NFL is around $10 million per year. The average veteran contract, which is a more realistic number to use when addressing true QB value, is about $15 million a year. There are only six other players in the NFL that earn in the vicinity of “QB money”. Those players are Calvin Johnson ($16.2 million), Larry Fitzgerald ($16.1 million), Revis ($16 million), Williams ($16 million), Adrian Peterson ($14.2 million), and Juilus Peppers ($14 million).
The combined records of the teams featuring those players since they signed their mega-deals is 69-100 through Thursdays Buccaneers/Panthers game. The only playoff team was Peterson’s Vikings in 2012 when Peterson had the historic rushing year. They lost in the first round. Johnson’s Lions are in a position to make it this season. Only Peppers and Peterson experienced a winning season and I’d imagine Johnson will join that group this season.
This of course brings up the debate as to whether or not non-QB’s can be worth this kind of money? I think most teams would answer no to this question. To some extent all of those other positions can be taken away from a gameplan. That can not really be done with a Quarterback which is why they are so valuable, though the prices on the QB have become far too high as well.
Revis is such a unique talent because he may be the only true lockdown corner in the NFL. While in New York, Revis didn’t just play a side while in man on defense. He didn’t play zone and pass off responsibility. Revis simply picked a player and followed him. He followed him out of the huddle and across the field. He was good enough to break assignments in the middle of a play while he sniffed out where the ball was actually going. And this did not always mean Revis was on the best player. Often he seemed to match against the player the Jets thought the play was designed to go to.
But to get the most out of Revis it takes a great deal of confidence in your defense and your personnel. Say what you will about Rex Ryan, the one thing he has is the utmost confidence in his team. He pushed to bring in another excellent corner(both through the draft in Kyle Wilson and free agency in Antonio Cromartie) to play alongside Revis to prevent teams from being able to use the strategy of just throwing away from him at a below average player. It also required a coach to believe that he can just leave a player out there to “do his thing” and not have the support in place.
What we see in Tampa is the approach where Revis is forced to fit into a defense rather than the “defense plus 1” strategy that was a success in New York. I don’t think many teams in the NFL would be willing to do what Ryan did with Revis in New York. It was the perfect marriage. But if a team is going to zone Revis out then how can he be the “QB of a defense”. He can’t.
In Revis’ case a team acquiring him in a trade next season would need to be willing to pay him $16 million in cap and cash each year to honor his contract. While they could juggle some numbers to make it more cap friendly than the current contract, the bottom line number remains the same- every year will cost the team $16 million in cash. A team might be willing to pay him for 9 weeks at that rate knowing they are a playoff team, but on a yearly basis? Doubtful. That’s why at least exploring trades now might not be a bad option for Tampa.
The Revis Gamble
The lack of guarantees and dead money protection really makes the deal nothing more than a one year contract with yearly options. It was a gamble on his part that he could lose. The cornerback market considerably softened in 2013. Players expecting mega deals or franchise tags signed for less than $5 million a season. Others took one year contracts hoping that the salary cap situation would improve in 2014 for most teams. Whether that was because of the spread offenses in the NFL further diminishing the value of one player or some other reason, teams just are not spending there yet. In hindsight it makes Revis’ contract look ludicrous.
Revis earns almost $6 million more per season than the next closest priced corner, who is Champ Bailey of the Denver Broncos. It is almost impossible for Revis to be worth that much more than the second highest paid player at the position especially in the defense Tampa is running. The other high end players are anywhere no more than $4 million above the second highest paid player at the position. It’s pretty much an unsustainable salary for Revis if Tampa Bay decided to move on.
By no means does that mean Revis is going to starve but if he enters free agency and there are a group of young cornerbacks that are going to push the envelope on pricing in the near future, but I don’t think a team would be willing to really go much above the $12 million dollar level. His willingness to go with no guarantees could potentially lead to some pretty big changes not just in Tampa but for everyone else at the position.
The cornerback market wants a player like Revis to earn $16 million because it gives them a target to aim for. Richard Sherman of the Seahawks would love to have a data point to go after when his contract comes up for renewal. If that data point drops to $12 million his leverage is going to be hurt. The whole market can benefit from players like Revis breaking the bank. Players need Revis to succeed where the others have failed to help increase their asking price. But with 0-7 and a bleak future staring the Buccaneers in the face this may prove to be nothing more than a failed one year contract.
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.