But to understand this situation, we have to look back at 12 months’ worth of poor decisions and strange fascinations that got the Jets in this spot in the first place and why the man that made those decisions could not have solved the Revis problem.
From hiring Tony Sparano as the one to take Mark Sanchez to the next level by taking the ball out of his hands (think about that) to then extending Sanchez for millions of guaranteed dollars and trading for Tim Tebow, it was a strange offseason. Made even weirder by Rex Ryan calling the talent-deficient roster possibly the best team he’s had since he came to New York (ego boost, anyone?) and proceeding to watch said team collapse in on itself, betrayed by, guess what – a lack of talent, particularly at quarterback.
There was the buttfumble – the moment that will forever capture the 2012 Jets – and the brief love affair with Greg McElroy, all while the healthy-but-not-enough-to-play Tebow sat and watched. Six different wide receivers started a game this season, while nine caught passes from three different quarterbacks. A team that based itself on ground and pound was outrushed by its opponents nine times while the defense allowed the seventh-most rushing yards in the league.
It was a circus, complete with the New York Post back page cover. And it all – along with many, many more stories, stats and stupor-inducing snapshots – got general manager Mike Tannenabum fired.
Which brings us back to Revis’ contract. A contract negotiated by Tannenbaum to be a “stop-gap” deal (or whatever language you choose to use) until the parties could negotiate a true “lifetime contract” for arguably the best cornerback since the greatest cornerback ever. That never happened – partly due to burnt bridges on both sides, partly due to the Jets finally having leverage over Revis.
What the Jets do with Revis all trails back to Tannenbaum. He drafted him. He helped hire a staff that cultivated Revis’ talent. He negotiated a contract through an extremely contentious process that alienated Revis’ agents and probably partly Revis, too. But the Jets could not have gotten out of this situation if Tannenabum were still in place. There needed to be a new voice on the phone to other teams, in negotiations with Revis’ agents and in the meeting rooms where the Jets will ultimately decide what to do with their franchise player.
The fact that the Jets are exploring, did explore or will explore trading Revis should surprise no one. He’s one season away from enacting an opt-out clause and becoming an unrestricted free agent. The Jets can’t use the franchise tag on him and he’s thought to want the most expensive contract for a defensive player in the history of the NFL. He’s also coming off an ACL injury, but the perception of players returning from that injury was forever altered by Adrian Peterson’s recovery. While normally teams would be reluctant – or at least knock down their off – to trade for a player rehabbing an ACL injury, recent history has shown that players can not only come back but still be the dominant force they were before the injury.
The Jets, meanwhile, are in awful shape. They have almost no leverage outside of the injury, although Revis’ agents will use Peterson’s recovery in contract talks as much as the Jets will in trade talks. They have a roster devoid of talent in almost every personnel group, especially at the offensive skill positions. The one strength they do have is at cornerback. When Revis went down, Antonio Cromartie elevated his game to an elite level and became a special player for most of the season. Cromartie also has a reasonable contract with two years left on it, but assuming a good year next year, you can put your money on Cromartie holding out entering 2014 training camp unless he gets paid. That means you are looking at having to pay two Pro Bowl cornerbacks within the next calendar year – something a team that needs to spread out its defense-heavy salary cap throughout the roster cannot do.
All of this with a new GM in charge. No GM gets hired without the previous GM leaving the roster in rough shape, be it through financial means or by lack of talent. For the Jets, it’s a bit of both, although the financial fix is a much quicker one and should be under control entering next offseason. John Idzik’s job then, as any new GM does, is to evaluate the entire roster from top (Revis) to bottom (Sanchez – HAH!). He must decipher which players are worth paying and which are not and measure that against the current NFL landscape, while also keeping an eye on which players are on the come or will need to paid within that GM’s immediate tenure. Everyone, except for Mo Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Nick Mangold should be up for trade and if someone calls asking, then Idzik should, and likely will, pick up and hear them out. But he will do so with the idea in mind that he is not just trying to build the league’s best defense as it feels like they’ve done in the Rex era. Idzik’s job is to build a complete team and if you can free up $16 million in future salary, plus untold annual bonus cash, while also landing multiple high-value assets in the process, then that’s something ANY new GM would consider.
Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in football right now and the best cornerback since Deion Sanders, although Charles Woodson fans might have a fair argument. His 2009 season is the stuff of legend and there are a lot of people who, rightfully so, cringe at the thought of him finishing his career in another jersey. How do you replace a guy like Revis? Some would argue the Jets did just fine this year, with a combination of Antonio Cromartie stepping up, improved safety play and solid efforts from guys like Isaiah Trufant and Ellis Lankster (No, not you Kyle Wilson. No, I mean it -- sit down, Kyle!).
To that, I say – there is no replacing Darrelle Revis. You can guard against his absence for stretches and you can mix and match players depending on the matchup (Trufant vs. Welker), but in the end, there is no accounting for his absolute dominance on one side of the field. Cromartie played fantastic this year, but if he is the only cornerback next year and it’s Wilson, Trufant or Lankster opposite him, guess who teams are going to throw at? Yeah – exactly. And that’s assuming one side of the field is locked down and unapproachable. Would anyone dare to say that Cromartie shut down one side of the field on a weekly basis this season? Of course not. As good as his year was, it wasn’t Revis. Teams could still throw on him and they did – sometimes to a good amount of success.
If you’re going to only pay one cornerback a hefty sum, then it should be the one who you can absolutely count on to eliminate one of the team’s best receivers without question. Going forward, the Jets won’t have a guy like LaRon Landry this season, which will hurt the secondary, particularly a secondary where both cornerbacks need support at times. With Revis, one side of the field or one player is taken care of for most of the game. That allows the Jets to mix and match their coverages and have the safeties support the secondary and/or nickel cornerback and vice versa. With Revis in tow, you can use essentially three to four player to cover the other half of the field. As we saw from 2008 to 2011, that’s a huge advantage that makes Rex’s defense and his pass rush much better – just ask opposing quarterbacks.
The final difference between Revis and the other cornerbacks in the league, particularly on the Jets, is there is no “type” that Revis covers best. We’ve seen him shut down everyone from Terrell Owens, Andre Johnson and Roddy White to smaller guys like Wes Welker and Stevie Johnson. Hell, the Jets even used him on Aaron Hernandez and occasionally Rob Gronkowski. He is the most versatile defender on the field while also being the best defender on the field. Think about that. Cromartie, on the other hand, struggles greatly against smaller, quick receivers that need to be jammed at the line of scrimmage. He has a “type” that he does best against. The taller, more athletic types that get down the field are his specialty. That’s why you would often see Cromartie cover the downfield threat while Revis would match up against Welker or whomever that week. There is no replacing Revis. Not with Cromartie, a draft pick or a scheme. You can get by for a time, but eventually, your defense will suffer and teams will pick at your holes.
Do those last two sections feel like contradictions to you? That’s because they kind of are, but they’re also the two sides to this argument. When a team is faced with dealing a player on the level of Revis, there’s never a clear answer. The Steelers could get away with trading Santonio Holmes because the positives of getting rid of him were pretty much on par with the negatives of losing him. The same goes for Antonio Cromartie and the Chargers. It made sense for those teams to deal those players. For the Jets, you are trading a once-in-a-generation player who is due a massive payday from a team whose entire defense is based around that player’s skillset. It sucks and there’s no getting around that.
When this is all said and done, there will be people on both sides that scream about how bad of a deal this is for the Jets and there will eventually be people on one side that crows about how the Jets should have kept him or should have dumped him. Parts of the NFL media corps will shred the Jets if they trade Revis for not sticking by their franchise player, for sending a bad message to future Jets that the organization doesn’t value loyalty. If they keep Revis, parts of the NFL media corps will count beans and pennies and salary cap space and point to how no team in this year’s conference title games had any corner with the talent or the paycheck of a newly signed Revis.
And in the end, neither side will be wrong. This is an issue that divides both sides and there will be positives and negatives no matter what happens. The only winner in this entire situation is the Jets. No matter whether they keep Revis or trade him, the Jets win. They win because they drafted and developed a player into a premier asset and they have two choices. They can either cash that asset in and reap the rewards in terms of draft picks and cheap young talent, or they can sign him and enjoy five years of having the most dominant secondary player in two decades on their side. And that would not have been the case with Mike Tannenbaum still in place.
If Mike T were still in charge, the entire situation would be negatively charged from the beginning. Much like lame-duck coaches tend to coach differently in a year they’re trying to save their jobs, so do lame-duck general managers. If Mike T had stayed, he would have been in a desperate situation, managing to put together a team that would preserve his lifespan as Jets GM for another year. Do you think he’d be looking for the best deal for the Jets for the next five to seven years? No, he would have been looking for the best deal (trade or contract) for the 2013 Jets, because the 2013 Jets are the ones that will decide whether he gets to keep his job.
If Mike T ended up choosing the contract route, he would have been negotiating from a weaker stance. Revis’ agents would have known he was desperate to keep his job. They would have driven as hard a bargain as possible, knowing that Tannenbaum had made the decision he had to keep Revis. Plus there’s already an aura of bad blood that would have put the Jets behind the proverbial 8-ball from before legit contract talks even began.
If Mike T went the trade route, he likely would have done so while those frustrating contract negotiations with Revis’ agents were floundering, putting him out of the ledge in league circles. People talk about how the Jets have lost leverage in trade talks now, but how do you think their leverage would have been if a desperate Mike T was the one making the phone calls?
With a new general manager in place, the Jets are starting from ground zero in both aspects. John Idzik doesn’t have to show any loyalty to Revis or his agents because he’s never dealt with them. Whatever bad blood there might be is between the agents and Woody, but a good GM and a good contract negotiator (which is Idzik’s specialty) keeps that out of the board room. In league circles, Idzik is evaluating which trade would help him for the next four or five years because he knows he doesn’t have to deliver a playoff team in year one. Just by hiring a new GM, the Jets have regained as much of the leverage as they possible could have in this situation.
In the end, Idzik will talk contract with Revis’ agents. At the same time, he’ll talk trade with other general managers and he’ll choose whichever option best suits his long-term vision for the club. Whether Revis stays or Revis goes, the Jets will win because Idzik will be negotiating from even ground instead of Mike T feeling like the weight of the world is on top of him.
And they never could have gotten here if the last 12 months hadn’t been such a mess.