Clarification: Following this story’s initial publication, it was learned the Revis deal contained a team option for a second year at $20 million.
Bill Belichick has crafted a Hall of Fame coaching career out of being unpredictable. Wednesday evening, he shocked the NFL world by opening his wallet and spending big to land one of the league’s best players.
The Patriots wasted little time Wednesday, reportedly agreeing to a deal with five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis barely four hours after he was released by the Buccaneers for salary cap reasons. According to ESPN, the Patriots agreed on a one-year deal worth $12 million, pending the completion of a physical on Thursday.
Revis, who will be 29 in July, will replace Aqib Talib, who bolted New England on Tuesday to sign a six-year, $57-million contract ($26 million guaranteed) with rival Denver.
The Patriots generally don’t make big splashes in free agency — their last additions of this magnitude came in 2007, when they traded for Randy Moss and Wes Welker and gave Adalius Thomas $35 million in free agency — but the ability to sign their former Jets nemesis was too tempting to pass up.
Revis, the Jets’ first-round pick in 2007, was widely regarded as the top cornerback in the NFL during his first five seasons, when he collected 18 interceptions and helped the Jets reach two AFC Championship games. He tore his ACL in 2012 and was traded to Tampa Bay before the 2013 season because of salary cap reasons, but seemingly returned to form with the Bucs. He played in all 16 games, had two interceptions and two forced fumbles and was ranked the No. 1 cornerback in the NFL by the website Pro Football Focus.
The Buccaneers released him rather than paying him a $1.5 million roster bonus. Revis was set to make a total of $16 million this season on his previous contract, and the $12 million deal he got from the Patriots, combined with the eye-popping contract the Broncos gave Talib, makes Revis’s signing a relative bargain with very little risk.
The Patriots had to make a move to keep up with the Broncos, who beat the Patriots in January’s AFC Championship game and this week doled out $60 million in guarantees to DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, and Talib in the first two days of free agency.
Talib’s departure left a huge void in the Patriots’ defense, but there’s little debate they upgraded with Revis, the team’s first free agent signing of 2014. Not only is Revis considered a superior cover corner, but he is far more durable, playing in all 16 games in four of his seven seasons, which Talib has never done in his six-year career. The only time Revis played in fewer than 13 games in a season was 2012, when he tore his ACL in Week 3.
If Revis continues his superb play, the Patriots can talk about signing him to a contract extension during the season or offseason. If he is less than great, the Patriots can simply wash their hands clean of him after 2014 and let him become a free agent.
Revis should count $12 million against the salary cap in 2014, although it’s possible his number will be lower if the contract also includes voidable years. The $12 million would be the second-highest cap number on the team, behind Tom Brady ($12.8 million) but ahead of Vince Wilfork ($11.6 million) and Logan Mankins ($10.5 million).
The Patriots had approximately $17 million in cap space before the signing, meaning they will likely have to release several veterans and/or create cap space via contract extensions in order to sign more free agents and their rookie class. They still are speaking with receiver Julian Edelman and several lower-tier free agents.
The Patriots had already spoken to Wilfork about accepting a contract extension to lower his cap number, and Revis’s signing appears to put pressure on Wilfork even more to accept the Patriots’ terms. Wilfork, who will be 33 this year, is coming off a season with below-average play and a torn Achilles’ tendon, and the Patriots can cut him outright and save $8 million in cap dollars if he doesn’t agree to lower his cap number via a contract extension or straight pay cut.
The Patriots can also create more than $6 million in cap space if they release guard Dan Connolly, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, and safety Adrian Wilson. And a few key veterans could have their numbers lowered with contract extensions — Devin McCourty ($5.115 million), Stephen Gostkowski ($3.8 million), and Mankins.
The Revis signing is interesting given his history with Belichick. When Revis played for the rival Jets, he was one of the few players willing to take on Belichick, calling him “ignorant,” “disrespectful” and a “jerk” at various times in 2011 and 2012.
But Revis showed more respect last August when the Buccaneers came to Foxborough for three days of joint practices with the Patriots.
“It was funny, because Mr. [Robert] Kraft came up to me and said some encouraging words, some good words,” Revis said after one practice. “So it just shows how much respect you have with another team, when you’re not on that side of the [rivalry].”Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.