The longer the public saga unfolds, the more likely it appears that the New York Jets will trade All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis this spring or summer.
A new report from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News on Wednesday states that the Jets are "determined" to move Revis, with at least two or three "legitimate buyers" ready to make such a deal.
“He’s gone,” a source told Mehta. “This is happening. They’re moving him. They can’t keep him. They’re rebuilding. They’re starting fresh.”
Revis, who turns 28 in July, is coming off reconstructive surgery to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee. He's also entering the de facto final year of his contract, as the final three years of his four-year, $46 million extension signed in 2010 are all voidable. Revis will become an unrestricted free agent next spring, giving the Jets incentive to deal him now and jump-start the rebuilding project already in place.
According to Mehta, Jets owner Woody Johnson "never had any intention" of giving Revis a new deal, which could potentially cost anywhere from $12 million to $16 million a season.
While understanding the reasons behind the Jets' willingness to deal Revis is one thing, finding a suitable trade partner is completely another.
There are obvious risk factors involved in making such a deal with the Jets.
Not only is Revis coming back from a major injury, but he'll cost several high draft picks (maybe as much as a first- and second-rounder), and any team dealing for the cornerback will likely want to come to terms on a long-term deal, in hopes of staving off a one-year rental.
Each are high hurdles that teams will need to jump over first before even considering a move to get the three-time All-Pro.
Which teams have the best chance of swinging such a deal? We run down the most likely candidates below.
San Francisco 49ers
Assets: $9.2 million in cap space and picks No. 31, 34, 61, 74 and 93 in 2013 draft
Mehta mentioned the 49ers as one of the legitimate buyers, noting that sources told him San Francisco is interested in a move for Revis "sooner rather than later."
Chris Mortensen of ESPN followed up on the connection, but heard the opposite of Mehta. According to Mortensen, a "high-ranking team source" from the 49ers said that their interest in Revis is ".001 on a scale from 1-10."
The 49ers have certainly bluffed the appearance of non-interest before, most notably with quarterback Peyton Manning last summer, and the fit for Revis in San Francisco still makes a lot of sense.
In addition to having a clear need at cornerback, the 49ers also possess the kind of draft capital needed to make a compelling offer to the Jets. By April's draft, San Francisco should have an NFL-high 15 picks, including five in the top 93 selections.
Clearing cap space can also be done, especially when considering Alex Smith and his $8.5 cap hit million will soon be coming off the books. The 49ers can also rid themselves of both David Akers ($3.6 million in 2013) and Parys Haralson ($2.9 million) to create room, and restructuring a big deal or two has also become commonplace from teams in need of moving around space.
UPDATE: The 49ers officially released David Akers on Wednesday.
Counting the 49ers out of the Revis race seems premature. If any team has the necessary pieces in place to swing a deal, it's San Francisco. Completing the move would make the 49ers the clear NFC favorite in 2013.
Assets: $23.6 million in cap space and picks No. 30, 60 and 92 in 2013 draft
The Falcons were the other team Mehta mentioned that may eventually have interest in Revis. At the very least, a union between Revis and the Falcons appears to make sense on paper.
Atlanta has plenty of cap room, and cornerback is an obvious need area. The Falcons finished 2012 as the NFL's 23rd-best team against the pass.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff also has a history of making aggressive decisions, with his move up in the 2011 NFL draft to get Julio Jones headlining the list. A deal for Revis would rank right alongside acquiring Jones, especially given the Falcons' need at corner.
Dunta Robinson (16 starts, one interception in 2012) has already been released, and Brent Grimes (missed all but one game of 2012) will be an unrestricted free agent come March 12. Asante Samuel turned 32 years old in January.
The position is slowly thinning out in talent.
Yet the Falcons still need new deals for safety William Moore and tackle Sam Baker, and quarterback Matt Ryan will eventually break the bank on a new extension.
Is there enough cap room to fit in Revis and his mega-deal? D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution doesn't think so.
The Falcons make sense on paper, but Revis-to-Atlanta probably remains a long shot.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Assets: $32.6 million in cap space and picks No. 13, 43 and 73 in 2013 draft
Looking for a dark-horse candidate for Revis? Tampa Bay is probably that team.
The Buccaneers have nearly $33 million in available cap room, which is more than enough to get a mega-deal for Revis done. General manager Mark Dominik also hasn't been shy about acquiring players (see: Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, Eric Wright last spring), and he can enter trade discussions armed with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported that the Buccaneers have an interest in "bringing in a cornerback," a reality that makes this connection even more tasty.
Wright (10 starts, one interception) isn't a lock to be back, but even if he is, the Bucs would still have one of the weakest cornerback positions in football. Dealing for Revis would fix that need in a blink of an eye.
Draft-pick compensation would be the major hurdle for Tampa Bay, but if Dominik thinks Revis can be the final piece to the playoff puzzle, pulling the trigger on a deal should be a no-brainer.
Assets: $29 million in cap space and picks No. 4, 35 and 67 in 2013 draft
Don't fall asleep on the Eagles, a team unafraid of making a splash and one that could be facing a massive hole at cornerback in the coming days.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is an unrestricted free agent this spring, and free-agent bust Nnamdi Asomugha (signed a five-year, $60 million with $25 million in 2011) has a cloudy future at best. Howard Eskin of Fox29 in Philadelphia reported Wednesday that Asomugha will be released.
Money wouldn't be a significant obstacle for Philadelphia either. The Eagles are about $29 million under the 2013 cap, and that number will rise if Asomugha is taken off the books.
Philadelphia gave Asomugha millions in hopes of acquiring a lockdown cornerback. That experiment failed.
Revis is another risk, but succeeding this time around would solve a huge problem for the Eagles for 2013 and beyond.