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With Darrelle Revis gone, Patriots’ options aren’t great

Cornerback Darrelle Revis is heading back to the Jets.AP/File

Ultimately, we shouldn't be too surprised that Darrelle Revis opted to re-sign with the Jets on Tuesday night instead of coming back for an encore with the Patriots.

The Jets were Revis's first love — the team that drafted him and made him a superstar — and his first choice last year when Tampa Bay cut him. The Jets weren't willing to pay him last year, but one All-Pro season and a Super Bowl victory with the Patriots later, they're bringing him back with open arms and open checkbook – $70 million over five years with $39 million fully guaranteed, according to reports.


People close to Revis spoke all 2014 season about how much Revis loved winning and being a Patriot, but the large dollar signs flashed in front of him and the allure of being the Jets' conquering hero — of returning to his real home and bringing the Jets their first Super Bowl victory in nearly five decades — was too much to turn down.

Revis wanted $40 million fully guaranteed over three years, per a source with knowledge of the negotiation, but the Patriots balked at making it fully guaranteed without any escape clauses, such as roster bonuses or injury-only guarantees. It was just too rich for Robert Kraft's blood, as was Revis's $20 million option the Patriots earlier had declined.

What we shouldn't have expected was the Patriots having to start over at cornerback in 2015, and seemingly not having a good fallback plan in case Revis walked away.

The Patriots will likely need to find two new starting cornerbacks this year as the team lost Revis and also declined the $2 million roster bonus on Brandon Browner, making him a free agent. It's possible that Browner is still in the Patriots' plans, but he seems to have lost a lot of his value without Revis lining up on the other side, and he's already received interest from the Titans and Saints.


The options on the roster to replace Revis and Browner are underwhelming, to say the least.

As of now, the Patriot cornerback with the highest salary cap number is still Revis, who will count $5 million against the cap to account for the money left on the signing bonus he received last year. After him are four players who have significant experience and provide good depth, but are not anywhere close to Revis talent-wise: Kyle Arrington ($4.625 million salary cap), Malcolm Butler ($510,000), Logan Ryan ($745,813), and Alfonzo Dennard ($1,556,442).

Cap it off
Top five cornerback cap hits for Patriots in 2015.
Darrelle Revis
Kyle Arrington
Alfonzo Dennard
Logan Ryan
Malcolm Butler

Forget about the press-man coverage that worked so well for the Patriots last year and helped their pass rushers get to the quarterback. None of the remaining cornerbacks has the elite cover skills of a Revis, or the incredible 6-foot-4-inch size of a Browner.

Remember, it was Browner's long-armed jam at the line of scrimmage that allowed Butler to get a free path to the ball and intercept Russell Wilson at the end of the Super Bowl. Now the Patriots might have to go back to being more of a Cover 2 secondary and a bend-but-don't break defense like they had from 2009-13, when, unfortunately, the defense broke all too often.

The Patriots are fresh off a Super Bowl, so the fans shouldn't be chasing after the Kraft family with pitchforks, but there doesn't seem to be a good answer to Tuesday's roster moves.


There's simply no replacing Revis, who is one of the best two or three cornerbacks in the game. Browner's physicality was important, but he also committed the most penalties in the NFL (15 in just nine games) and he had a penchant for giving up some deep passes (Torrey Smith in the playoffs comes to mind).

In free agency, the cornerback options weren't great to begin with, and most of the top players have come off the board — Byron Maxwell signed with Philadelphia, Brandon Flowers re-signed with the Chargers, Buster Skrine also went to the Jets, Kareem Jackson re-upped with Houston, and Tramon Williams visited the Saints Tuesday night.

If the Patriots try to sign a free agent, they're looking at someone such as Antonio Cromartie, Chris Culliver, or Jimmy Wilson — third-tier players who won't command much money. They could try to use a first- or second-round draft pick on a cornerback, but their track record in developing young corners hasn't been too stellar.

The Patriots' best bet is to upgrade along the defensive line and hope that a good pass rush can compensate for a shaky secondary. They brought in underrated Browns pass rusher Jabaal Sheard for a visit Tuesday night, according to ESPN. Sheard is only 25 years old, has 23 sacks in four years, and has the versatility to play in a 3-4 or 4-3.

They also need to sign a veteran defensive tackle, whether it's re-signing Alan Branch or going after a veteran such as Cleveland's Ahtyba Rubin or Miami's Randy Starks, a potential salary cap casualty. The Patriots could try to make a splash on the defensive line with a pass rusher such as Greg Hardy, Jason Worilds, or Derrick Morgan, but those players likely will be out of their price range.


The good news Tuesday was that the Patriots went from about $11 million over the salary cap to $14 million under, giving them more than enough space to sign free agents.

The bad news is their defense took a major hit, and there aren't any free agents who can replace what Revis brought to the table. And at this point, it's hard to say that the Patriots aren't going to be worse defensively in 2015 than they were in 2014.

The Patriots brought in Jabaal Sheard for a visit Tuesday.AP

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