Thoughts on Darrelle Revis Future with the Jets

In one of the more surprising NFL stories, Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis was charged with four felonies stemming from an incident that occurred in Pittsburgh. At this point there are two different versions of the story from each side so nobody can say for certain whether Revis was in the wrong or not, but it has opened the question up about Revis’ contract with the Jets and how this incident may impact his future with the team. So lets just go over a few details with his contract and how these things may be handled.

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The Dismantling and Rebuilding of a Team

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While the trade of Darrelle Revis seemed inevitable I think there was still a sense of shock when it finally went down and he became a Buccaneer. The situation illustrates one of the most difficult parts of building and, more importantly, maintaining a high quality team in a salary cap sport. This was clearly the issue at large between the Jets and Revis. I don’t think that there was anyone in Florham Park that disagreed with the fact that Revis was the best cornerback in the NFL. Im not even sure anyone disagreed that he was the best defensive player in the NFL. But this isn’t baseball and there was clear disagreement between what the value of the best defensive player in the NFL should be worth.

There will be many who state that the Jets poor decision to extend Mark Sanchez created a salary cap nightmare that forced them to deal Revis due to cap problems. Others might point the finger at David Harris or Santonio Holmes. None are really true. All will likely be gone in 2014 with minimal cap penalties. Sanchez this year counts for $12.853 million nowhere near the top of the NFL. The Jets could have fit Revis without issue. The question becomes at $16 million a season is it worth doing?

Assuming the salary cap grows at about 2% a year, Revis will occupy an average of 12.6% of the Buccaneers cap over the next 4 seasons.  Everyone agrees that this is a QB driven league and, unless you plan to just use draft picks on your QBs, they are paid highly. Joe Flacco, who has never thrown for 4,000 yards in a season just received over $20 million a year based on a playoff run. Matt Schaub who has won nothing got over $15 million. For the Revis move to work the Buccaneers are expecting Josh Freeman to take that next step. You are not spending that high on your secondary to bring in a rookie to take over. So lets be conservative and say he barely passes Schaub and earns $16 million. Receivers still make a good chunk of change and they have a Grade A player in Vincent Jackson. Jackson earns $11.1 million a year. So essentially you have now made the choice to invest around 34% of your allocations in 3 players. If you had one of the next best corners making just under $10 million the number changes to 29%. That’s a major difference.

Due to salary cap constraints you can not build a team by purchasing high priced free agents and hoping to fill in the holes around them with low cost rookies and low cost players near the end of their careers. It simply doesn’t work. By the time the low priced rookies are really able to contribute the high priced veterans make that turn past 30 and the play typically begins to decline. Cap penalties for release ensue and the team spends a lot of money to never accomplish anything. In some ways that is what happened with the Jets as their drafts from 2008 thru 2010 all more or less busted making it impossible to maintain the success of 2009 and 2010 with the aging roster.

You have to work the other way around in the NFL. First get the building blocks in place on low cost rookie deals and then augment those players with veterans. The Jets were successful with that formula when they drafted their core and depth players in 2006 and 2007 and then paid high prices for players like Bart Scott, Alan Faneca, Calvin Pace, Damien Woody, and Kris Jenkins. It culminated in two back to back championship games. Tampa Bay has many of those young players from recent drafts making a move for Revis a reasonable risk, but the Jets are not in the same place.

The Jets have officially waved the white flag on the past and begun the complete tearing down of their team. This is what happens in the salary cap league. There is no real middle ground anymore when it comes to team building. Either you have the youth in place and spend  or you don’t. When you don’t you have to do everything in your power to rebuild your team as fast as possible from the ground up. You can’t overspend at that point at any position until you get the team ready to make that next leap.

While none of this means miracles cant happen as it pertains to the Jets season, the planning has been clear. The Jets have signed no long term contracts this season. No attempts were made to extend players like Antonio Cromartie beyond 2014 even though it would have yielded significant cap relief. The team did not rework  the contract of C Nick Mangold which would have made cutting or trading him more difficult in the future. With the way the market has turned the Cromartie and Mangold deals represent positional overspending, specifically Mangold. You have to protect your teams flexibility when that occurs.

With the trade of Revis official the Jets will have replaced 12 starters from their 2012 season. Some such as Scott were no brainers. Others indicate an age issue. Shonn Greene will be 28. LaRon Landry will be 29. Mike DeVito will be 29. Dustin Keller will be 29. You don’t want to get in deep and long term on players who will be over 30 by the time you think you are going to fix the ship.  You can find lower cost older players or more upside younger players to fill those voids.

By the time 2014 rolls around the Jets will potentially replace 17 of the 22 starters from the 2012 season. That is a dismantling of a team. If they jettison Sanchez, Holmes, and Cromartie their team salary, including this years draft, will only be $61 million for 40 players under contract. At a $124 million dollar cap that is nearly $51 million in cap space.  From a long term planning perspective you hope to have your young building blocks in Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, and both of this years two number 1 draft picks in place. Maybe you get something out of Jeremy Kerley, Kenrick Ellis, Demario Davis, or Stephen Hill. At that stage you can begin to augment your team with veterans who will be 28 years or so of age in 2014 and meet the needs of the team based on your own personnel, coaching staff, and leaguewide trends not past preferences.

The NFL is very impatient and in order for GM’s and coaches to keep their jobs the long rebuild is not something that will be tolerated in most cities. What is good though is that most teams will give a new GM an opportunity to break things apart. The Jets did this in 2006 when they gave new GM Mike Tannenbaum permission  to trade the teams best player and cut Pro Bowlers like Kevin Mawae for the long term healthy of the club. John Idzik is getting that same opportunity and like Tannenbaum before him he is looking to do it quickly because he knows he will be out the door if he doesn’t get the job done.

You never say never in this league and maybe 2013 will see the Jets shock the world, but there is a clear path here to getting something in place in 2014 just 2 years into Idzik’s stint as GM. By 2015 they would definitely be in a place to make some noise with major cap room if they don’t use it in 2014. But it all relies on the draft. If Idzik misses on those two draft picks this year the Jets have a chance to fall back into pre-1998 obscurity by clearing a bunch of cap space for a team with no building blocks in place to drive the success of the team. If that happens the team could be faced with the same tough choice they just had with Revis as Wilkerson and Coples could seem to be too high of a cost on yet another rebuilding team.  That’s the vicious cycle of salary cap football.

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Thoughts on Darrelle Revis…

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I just wanted to touch on a few things Revis this morning. There were multiple stores yesterday on conditions in Revis’ contract with the Jets that tie together his three offseason bonuses. I think Rich Cimini was the first with the story but pretty much everyone on the Jets beat had similar information. I have to admit those conditions were news to me and illustrated a very strong position maintained by the Jets in regards to Revis. While the Jets were not happy to rework Revis’ contract back in 2010 the Jets did a stellar job of protecting themselves from another holdout from their star cornerback, essentially taking away his ability to collect some money in the offseason to support a holdout position throughout the summer.

Per terms of the CBA the Jets would still have the legal right to attack most of Revis’ money if he held out. The CBA gives teams the ability to go after offseason roster bonuses, reporting bonuses, option bonuses, etc… if the player holds out in the year that he earned the money. Still it becomes a long drawn out process to get that money back in small chunks over the course of the season. With the protection in Revis’ contract its much simpler- the Jets simply do not pay it.

One of the things that has confused me in the whole Revis debate yesterday is whether or not participation at workouts can force him to lose his other bonuses. I have seen deals where escalators and de-escalators as well as incentivized bonuses are tied to workout participation, though I have never seen a post earned bonus affected by lack of participation in a voluntary workout. Through numerous Twitter discussions yesterday I think contract guru Joel Corry pointed out that it was the mandatory offseason activities that are a condition of his earning his offseason bonuses not participation in workouts. Failing to complete his workouts simply has him missing out on a $1 million dollar check.

Just to point out the overall contract structure of Revis’ deal, minus these conditions, is not unique as some method to prevent a holdout. The Jets probably tie more money into offseason bonuses than any team in the NFL. I don’t know if that will continue with a new general manger but that is pretty much a fact. The Jets are big believers in offseason participation and to ensure it they offer large bonuses to players to attend voluntary workouts. This was a big point of contention in 2011 during the lockout because the Jets players had so much money to lose. Per my records the Jets have 9 players who have the chance to earn at least $100,000 by attending offseason workouts, 4 of whom have bonuses greater than $500,000. Revis tops the list at $1 million. D’Brickashaw Ferguson is second at $750,000.

The Jets have also used reporting bonuses in their contracts. I think it was Ferguson who was the first of their younger  guys to receive reporting bonuses towards the end of his contract. Mangold also has them in his deal. Offseason roster bonuses are neither uncommon nor do they have anything to do with holdout prevention. Typically an offseason roster bonus is designed to force a team to make a decision on a players future before free agency kicks in. There is nothing worse for a player than to be cut in late April after all the free agent dollars have been used up by the other 31 teams. This forces the team to at least give the player a “parting gift” if they change their mind and move on at a later date. Again Revis’ conditions are unique to a holdout but the presence of the bonus is not. Offseason money is a benefit to a player in most situations.

Revis’ situation is a bit unique in that the team is looking to trade him though it would not be the first time the Jets have moved a player that attended the early stages of workouts. In 2009 Kenyon Coleman, among others, was traded to the Cleveland Browns during the NFL draft. He ended up completing workouts with and being paid by the Browns that year. Alan Faneca was released in the middle of workouts after the Jets drafted Vlad Ducasse in the second round in 2010. The Jets paid Faneca his bonus.

Per the terms of Revis’ contract he must attend around 29 of 36 scheduled workouts if he wants to earn the $1 million dollar bonus with either the Jets or the Buccaneers, rumored to be his landing spot in a trade. Renegotiating that aspect is not really an option even if the two sides were on speaking terms as a renegotiation would limit Revis’ ability to negotiate a new long term contract with the Jets or a team he is traded to due to limitations of renegotiating a contract twice in 12 months where a pay increase is involved. The Jets are also not going to set a precedent of any type when it comes to offseason workouts.

The Jets offseason program begins on April 15. While I am not 100% certain of how this works I would imagine Revis could miss the first few days and still qualify for his $1 million dollar bonus, since it seems his bonus is tied to a number of dates not a total per week. I do not believe he could make it all the way to the draft, though, and still qualify. He would miss too many dates at that point. In the offseason Phase before the draft workouts are strictly rehab and conditioning with no contact with coaches during the workouts. Obviously he cant avoid seeing people around the office, but its more of an opportunity to get in and get out than in the later stages of the program. This could be a situation where he waits until he has more knowledge as to the Jets plans with him. If Revis does believe that the Jets will trade him he can sit these two weeks out until the draft and then deal with the Buccaneers. If Tampa signs him to an extension the fact that he did not attend 2 weeks of Jets offseason workouts will not matter. He will get his money regardless from the Buccaneers.

This is one of two strange offseason situations involving the Jets. While I think Revis’ situation is unique due to his stature and the trade possibility I do think if you have no intention of keeping a player you should release him before your offseason program begins. That is often a reason behind the early April releases for many teams. In the Jets case most feel that Tim Tebow is no longer in the teams plans. Based on the trade market last season and the rumored trade market this year the odds of finding a partner for him on draft day are next to nothing. He also does not have a role where you are finding a draft day replacement for him either. The Jets should know by now if he is or is not in their plans this season. While Tebow has no contracted workout bonuses in  his deal he should be released prior to the start of workouts if the Jets want to avoid that whole situation as well.

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Podcast: Revis, Revis, Revis

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Our first Podcast hosted on OTC, with a focus on Darrelle Revis, whether he might stay with the Jets and why the Bucs make so much sense for him….