Wednesday was Day 1, A.D. (After Darrelle). Cornerback Darrelle Revis’s defection from the Patriots and reunion with the New York Jets remained raw. The range of emotions for the Foxborough Faithful was spinning like “The Price is Right” big wheel. Anger aimed at the Patriots and Revis. Denial of Revis’s import to the Patriots winning the Super Bowl. Acceptance that the Patriots aren’t altering their operating philosophy. Belief in coach Bill Belichick to make it all right by September.
The Patriots won’t be able to replace Revis with a comparable corner, and they’ll still win 12 or more games next season, as long as they keep Tom Brady upright. Looking back, Revis and the Patriots were a shotgun marriage. The Patriots needed a replacement for Aqib Talib. Revis needed a landing spot after the Jets rebuffed a return engagement.
Revis is no longer a Patriot because Belichick is more comfortable betting on his own ability than on the ability of high-priced, aging players. Belichick always says it’s the players that win games. That’s what he said after his 200th career victory in September in Minnesota. It’s what he said to Julian Edelman on the podium after Super Bowl XLIX. But actions speak louder than words in sports. Belichick’s actions as potentate of Patriot Place scream he believes fungible players heeding his instructions win games.
His Hoodiness is the only indispensable part of the Patriots’ winning machine. The players are interchangeable and disposable if they fall outside of their line on the value chart, even if they’ll one day end up wearing a gold jacket in Canton, Ohio. In Bill We Trust. In himself he believes.
Given Belichick’s record of success, it’s hard to argue. Those of us that quibble on occasion would point out that the quarterback plays a rather vital role in the team’s systemic success.
Still, the Patriots’ track record of letting players depart for greener pastures and continuing to pile up wins like cabin cordwood is undeniable. Belichick always seems to know when to cut the cord.
So, while the rest of the AFC East is stocking up like it’s the End of Days, it’s back to the days of Cirque du Soleil-esque bend-but-don’t-break pass defense for the Patriots.
The Revis Rental is over. It brought a fourth Lombardi Trophy to the Patriots, got Revis a ring, and made the Jets so envious they lavished Revis with the highest contract ever for a cornerback.
His deal is for five years, $70 million, with $48 million due in the first three years and $39 million fully guaranteed. The Patriots were willing to do a three-year deal for Revis, but BB blanched at those last two numbers.
Before we start talking about escrow checks and ownership cheapening out, this was a philosophical football decision by Belichick not to go to such heights for Revis, who will turn 30 in July. Just like he drew the line last year on Talib, he did so again this offseason.
The difference is there is no safety net like Revis to give the Patriots a soft landing, only the potential of soft zone coverage like the first half of the divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.
No one went back on their word. Both the Patriots and Revis knew what the other side was about. It would have taken contract apostasy from Revis or the Patriots to get this deal done. Neither side was willing to abandon their beliefs.
The race is on to paint Revis as a backpedaling mercenary, as if that’s a pejorative in a league without guaranteed contracts. It’s quite convenient for the Patriots’ claque to forget that Revis came to the Patriots at a 25 percent discount. He had made $16 million in Tampa Bay in 2013 and signed a one-year, $12 million deal that the Patriots dressed up as a two-year, $32 million deal, using a $12 million roster bonus for 2015 as a trigger for the rest of the deal.
The NFL’s salary cap in 2013 was $123 million. This year it’s $143.28 million, so was Revis out of line asking for a deal that would pay him an average of $16 million per year in the first three years? Nope. That’s the going rate for his greatness. He wasn’t even asking for a raise. He was asking for restoration.
What did the Patriots think he was going to ask for when they signed him to a deal that for appearances and salary cap accounting averaged . . . $16 million per season? They had to know that was his magic number.
By the way, the Patriots will still pay Revis. A deferred $2.5 million portion of his $10 million signing bonus is due March 31.
Given his faith in his system and value assessments, Belichick held the Patriots’ finances in check like Revis holds receivers in check.
He can make his case, too.
The Patriots were 17th in pass defense last season at 239.8 yards per game. They were eighth in opponents’ completion percentage (59.6). In 2013 with Talib, the Patriots were 18th in pass defense (239 yards per game) and fourth in completion percentage allowed (57 percent).
Talib is on a pay-as-you-go, six-year, $57 million deal in Denver with $25.5 million in guarantees in the first three years. Is Revis worth nearly twice as much as Talib? Not to Belichick.
The sobering numbers for the coach-it-up crowd are the Patriots’ pass defense stats pre-Talib and Revis. The Patriots ranked 29th in pass defense in 2012 (271.4), when Talib was acquired during the season. They were 31st in 2011 (293.9 yards per game) and 30th in 2010 (258.5).
Cutting corners at cornerback is not a recipe for quality pass defense in today’s NFL, which is skill over scheme in the secondary.
But the Belichick Patriots are football’s felines. Just when you think they’re taking a steep fall they land on their feet.