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Patriots should go after Darrelle Revis

Could the Patriots pry Darrelle Revis from the Buccaneers?

Marc Serota/AP

Could the Patriots pry Darrelle Revis from the Buccaneers?

At first glance it seemed like a pipe dream, a pie-in-the-sky type of move cooked up by fantasy football general managers.

Darrelle Revis to the Patriots? What, are you kidding?

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The cornerback has $80 million and five years left on his contract — a cool $16 million per season, tying him with Mario Williams as the highest-paid defenders in the league. There’s no way the Patriots could afford him under the salary cap, right?

Well, I’ve had a few days to chew on it and crunch the numbers. And it’s pretty clear what the Patriots need to do.

Go get Revis. Seriously.

Forget Aqib Talib, who has a history of off-field problems, a troublesome hip injury that won’t go away, and a high price tag this offseason.

Revis is the guy you want. And believe it or not, the Patriots can make it happen fairly reasonably.

It obviously makes good football sense to pry Revis — widely regarded as the top cornerback of his generation — away from the Buccaneers in a blockbuster trade. Revis, who will be 29 this summer, is likely the difference between another loss in the AFC Championship game and an appearance in the Super Bowl.

He also makes more financial sense than re-signing Talib, who is primed to cash in and doesn’t seem much interested in giving the Patriots a hometown discount.

Revis is durable, playing all 16 games last year for the fifth time in his seven-year career. He gives you an elite presence in the secondary and improves your defense across the board.

He was clearly the NFL’s No. 1 cornerback before tearing his ACL in 2012. Last year, in his first season back from injury, whom did profootballfocus.com rate as the No. 1 cornerback in the entire league? Yup, Revis — who according to PFF allowed just 400 receiving yards all season. Talib was 58th.

And by trading for Revis, you get to needle the hated Jets, which is worth the price of admission in itself.

The Patriots love to talk about value, and guess what? Revis provides more of it than Talib, who is injury-prone and not nearly as skilled as Revis.

Because believe it or not, fitting Revis in under the salary cap wouldn’t be too difficult.

How? Let’s explain:

Revis is set to make $16 million per year — $13 million in base salary, plus a $1.5 million roster bonus due each March and a $1.5 million workout bonus for showing up each offseason. At that structure, Revis’s $16 million salary cap number would be the largest on the Patriots – higher than Tom Brady’s $14.8 million.

But that contract comes with a big asterisk, as discovered by the Tampa Tribune. Per the contract, the team can convert Revis’s $13 million salary into a guaranteed bonus at any time. Revis actually would prefer this to happen — instead of waiting for the fall to receive his salary in 17 installments, he’d receive most of it up front in a big, fat check.

Converting salary money to bonus money allows a team to spread that cap money over the life of the contract, as the Cardinals did with Larry Fitzgerald last month.

So, for example, in 2014 the Patriots could decide to turn $10 million of Revis’s $13 million into bonus money, which would be spread over the final five years of his deal at $2 million per season.

That would put Revis’s 2014 salary cap number at $8 million — $3 million in base salary, $2 million bonus proration, $1.5 million roster bonus and $1.5 million workout bonus — which the Patriots easily could handle. The Patriots currently sit with $12.7 million in cap space for 2014, and can create an extra $9.2 million by cutting Dan Connolly, Isaac Sopoaga, Tommy Kelly, Adrian Wilson, and Jake Bequette. They can create even more space by giving contract extensions to Vince Wilfork, Devin McCourty, and Stephen Gostkowski.

Now consider that Talib should be able to equal or better the deal received by Miami’s Brent Grimes, who just signed for $16 million guaranteed over the next two seasons — $8.475 million in cash this year and $7.525 million next year. Grimes also has cap numbers of $4 million in 2014 and $10 million in 2015. At those numbers, wouldn’t you rather spend just a little more and get the best cornerback in the NFL?

Converting Revis’s salary to bonus money could create a problem for 2015. If Revis plays to form in 2014 and the Patriots want to bring him back the next season, he would carry a cap number of $18 million in 2015, which is quite high. Then again, absorbing that hit wouldn’t be as bad considering Aaron Hernandez will come off the books next year, and the salary cap will continue to climb thanks to an influx of new TV money.

And if Revis is a bust in 2014? The Patriots simply can designate him as a post-June 1 cut and have salary cap hits of $2 million in 2015 and $6 million in 2016.

In summation, with Revis you’re looking at cap numbers of $8 million and $18 million if he’s great, or $8 million, $2 million, and $6 million if he’s less than great. Well worth the risk, in my humble opinion. Plus, you always can try to restructure before next season.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on a Revis trade. He is due a $1.5 million roster bonus March 13, a week from today. If he’s still on the Bucs roster then, he gets his money, the Bucs owe the Jets a third-round pick instead of a fourth-rounder, and the Bucs lose any incentive to trade their star.

The Bucs certainly don’t have to do this trade — they are comfortably under the salary cap for the next two years.

But the men running the Bucs aren’t the same guys who traded for Revis last year. They’re not emotionally attached to the player. No team minds shedding an exorbitant contract while acquiring extra draft picks or young talent in the process.

Bill Belichick should call up new Bucs GM Jason Licht — you know, the guy who worked in the Patriots’ scouting department and front office from 1999-2002 and again in 2008 — and give his buddy an offer for Revis he simply can’t refuse.

Offer Licht a second-round pick to take that big contract off his hands. If he must, throw in Logan Ryan, a promising young corner, to offset the loss; the Patriots always can draft another Logan Ryan in the third round this year. Heck, consider sending the Bucs your first-round pick (29th overall) if that’s what it will take.

Revis in a Patriots uniform. It’s not just some silly fantasy anymore.

The Patriots need to make it happen.

***

Who else is available?

If the Patriots do not re-sign Aqib Talib (or trade for Darrelle Revis), here are some other interesting free agents at cornerback:

Player2013 teamAgeHt.Wt.Int.Comment
Vontae DavisIndianapolis255-112041Patriots familiar with his game from his years with Dolphins
Dominique Rodgers-CromartieDenver276-21933High-end speed (4.33 at Combine in 2008), talent, but inconsistent
Alterraun VernerTennessee255-101875Pro Bowler in 2013, can play outside or inside
Walter ThurmondSeattle265-111901A backup until Brandon Browner was suspended, but played well as replacement
Charles TillmanChicago336-21983Top corner in 2012; tore right triceps last season and missed eight games

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin
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