Whatever the Jets decide to do about Darrelle Revis between now and March 11, this much is known: He is contractually guaranteed to receive $6 million of his 2017 salary, no matter what.
Or, at least, probably.
Of all the issues hanging over the Jets cornerback at the moment, from his NFL future to the four felonies and misdemeanor he's been charged with after a recent street fight in Pittsburgh, that $6 million he's owed might be the most intriguing. A "guarantee" of course is never completely guaranteed, and there is some language in his deal - both specific and vague - that could allow the Jets either recoup it or not pay it at all.
The truth, though, according to several NFL people well-versed in the language of league contracts, is that any attempt to get the money back (or to not pay it in the first place) by the Jets would surely be a longshot. It also would almost certainly spark a legal battle that could last for years.
Right now, the 31-year-old Revis is entering the third year of a five-year, $70.1 million contract he signed with the Jets in 2015. It includes $39 million in guaranteed money, which included his full salaries in 2015-16 and $6 million of the $13 million salary he's owed in 2017. He's also due a $2 million roster bonus if he's on the roster March 11 - the second day of the 2017 "league year."
It was designed to obviously give Revis a little financial protection, and to give the Jets a deadline to make a decision if they felt his $15.3 million cap number for 2017 was too high. They've definitely decided that it's too high (a no-brainer), though there had been some thought of bringing him back at a reduced number - and as a safety - if he would agree to a restructure. There seemed to be only a small chance of that actually happening, of course, and now after his street fight there's probably no chance at all.
So, assuming the Jets cut him before March 11 (and after March 9 since, due to a quirk in the salary cap rules, they can't afford to cut him until after the next league year begins), they'd reduce his cap hit to $6 million - a savings of $9.3 million - and they'd still have to pay him that $6 million, minus whatever he makes from his new team if he signs elsewhere to play next year.
The idea that the Jets could get out of that obligation comes from language in his contract, confirmed from NFL sources, that says he could be considered in breach of contract if he's fined or suspended by the NFL or by the Jets for "conduct detrimental" to the team, if he's punished for violating the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy or if the Jets believe he does anything they "reasonably" believe will "adversely affect or reflect" on the franchise.
That last part is purposely vague and would probably be the part of the clause used by the Jets if they decided to pursue this matter. That's because the NFL's history in fining or punishing players is that they almost never act before the case has made it through the judiciary system, resulting in a court resolution or a plea deal. And since Revis hasn't even had his preliminary hearing yet, that likely won't be any time soon.
The NFL could get around that by placing Revis on the "Commissioner's Exempt list" - a designation many in the league consider to be used mostly by Commissioner Roger Goodell's whim. But that would be a stretch even for them in this case, since no one has seen any actual evidence against Revis other than statements by witnesses.
And that, by the way, was why it was key that his lawyers had his pretrial hearing postponed from Thursday to March 15 - six days after the start of free agency. The criminal complaint against Revis states that one of his victims recorded a cell phone video of much of the incident - apparently different than the one recently released to TMZ that shows only the aftermath. If that video makes Revis look bad - and especially if a public outcry were to follow - Goodell could be pressured to use that exempt list.
A damning video could also give the Jets evidence to punish Revis for "conduct detrimental" to the team.
In absence of any of that, though, a criminal complaint isn't enough for the Jets or the NFL to enact the punishment that would allow the Jets to claim breach of contract. Remember, Revis' story - through his attorneys -- is that he was simply walking down the street and was followed by two men who were the aggressors, and that he didn't hit anyone. They hit him.
The Jets and NFL couldn't punish him for that - not without a heck of a legal fight.
But is there enough for the Jets to "reasonably" conclude that this incident with Revis will "adversely affect or reflect" on the franchise? That would seem to be one heck of a stretch, too, which is surely how Revis and the NFL Players Association would take it. And given Revis' history of trying to squeeze every dollar out of the league, and the NFLPA's history of fighting the league - and Goodell - on their ability to punish players for off-field issues, they would surely challenge the NFL in arbitration. They likely would challenge them in the courts, too.
And there's one more thing that makes this $6 million challenge unlikely: According to several people in the league, the Jets would have to do this before they cut Revis. Once they cut him, the $6 million would be impossible to get back. That means the Jets have would have to keep him - and his $15.3 million cap number - on their books for much longer than they can afford to do.
Considering their many needs and the fact that they don't have much salary cap space as it is, that seems unlikely. So unless some new, damning evidence is leaked between now and March 11, or unless a plea deal is reached by then, the reality is the Jets might be stuck. They certainly can fight if they want, but remember that the Atlanta Falcons once went after the bonus money of quarterback Michael Vick, who was convicted of and incarcerated for his part in a dog-fighting ring.
That fight turned out to be a two-year legal battle, and the Falcons ultimately lost.