The once unthinkable move of the New York Jets trading away their best player, cornerback Darrelle Revis, is the story that will not die this offseason.
The pirate ship will just not leave “Revis Island” as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been involved in trade discussions over Revis for weeks now. Past stories indicated Tampa Bay was willing to trade first- and second-round picks in the 2014 draft.
But this week it was reported the Jets want Tampa Bay’s first-round pick (No. 13 overall) in this year’s draft, and perhaps more. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported that the Buccaneers are willing to send that No. 13 pick to the Jets for Revis, though anything beyond that is just speculation.
We will set aside the discussion on whether or not the Jets should trade Revis, because it looks like it is inevitably going to happen before the draft.
Instead let’s focus on whether or not this trade would be smart for the Buccaneers or for any team willing to make a proposal to the Jets. There is a lot to consider here.
Is Tampa Bay in a Position to Compete?
We know most teams are very stubborn in giving up draft picks, especially in the top half of the first round, but sometimes it is the smart move.
If you are so close to a Super Bowl like the 49ers, Broncos or Falcons, then a move like trading high picks for Revis is brilliant. Building for long-term success is not like it used to be in a “win now or you’re fired” league. You make the deal because you think that one player is the final missing piece to a championship.
Tampa Bay is not that kind of team. In the 10 seasons since winning the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers are just 0-2 in the playoffs, last making it in 2007.
After a surprising 10-6 finish in 2010, the Buccaneers are only 11-21 the last two seasons. They did hit on Vincent Jackson in free agency last year and Doug Martin appears to be a great running back, but Josh Freeman is a streaky player. His fourth-year development is the biggest obstacle for this team. So the offense is somewhat there in terms of the pieces, but it may not be an offense you can count on to consistently deliver.
There is no doubt pass defense was the major weakness for the Buccaneers last season; a 7-9 finish in coach Greg Schiano’s rookie debut.
Opposing passers shredded Tampa Bay for 4,951 yards (third-most gross passing yards in NFL history) and 30 touchdown passes.
Eli Manning passed for 510 yards; 229 of them in the final 7:41 in a big comeback win. Just about any quarterback worth his salt—so anyone but Brady Quinn—played well against Tampa Bay’s defense, which surrendered nine 300-yard passing games. It does not help when Tampa Bay plays in an NFC South loaded with quarterbacks and receivers.
There is definitely a hole in the secondary. The Buccaneers traded Aqib Talib to New England last season, while Ronde Barber had already made the move to safety. He is 38 and may not even return.
The team has re-signed Eric Wright, safety Mark Barron will be in his second season, and Dashon Goldson signed a rich free-agent contract after leaving San Francisco, so there is a secondary building here.
But the star cornerback is missing, which is the role Revis certainly can fill. He was widely considered the best shutdown corner in the league before his ACL injury.
That injury is the biggest risk factor playing into this decision to pursue him. Without the injury, there would certainly be several more teams lining up to make their own trade offer to the Jets.
There is also a large financial investment that goes into Revis. Not only will it likely cost the No. 13 pick (and then some), but Revis is looking for in the neighborhood of $15 million per season.
ESPN reports Tampa Bay has about $30 million free in cap space, so the money is not an issue. Compensation is.
Simply put, you are not paying Revis $15 million just so you can go 9-7 and barely miss the playoffs. It is going to take more than Revis to put this team over the top, though it is not like he is coming for a one-year deal.
In more ways than one, this is not Deion Sanders joining the 1994 San Francisco 49ers.
What Is the Value of the No. 13 Pick?
The Buccaneers would hope to keep Revis, who turns 28 in July, for the remaining prime years of his career. With the No. 13 pick, the Buccaneers would be getting a young prospect for at least four seasons.
But for as stubborn as teams are with draft picks, none of the picks are worth a damn if you do not select a good player. The draft is hardly an exact science, so this comparison of a known commodity against the chance of a better player is always interesting to analyze.
Can the Buccaneers do better than post-injury Revis with the No. 13 pick in this 2013 draft? Let’s look at some draft history.
Using the draft preview and Approximate Value (AV) calculation at Pro-Football-Reference, we can see the average Approximate Value (AvgAV) is significantly higher for the first four picks in the draft compared to the rest.
The average AV for the No. 13 pick since 1970 is 42. It is actually the 11th-highest AV for any draft slot. You would be hard-pressed to name more than five players better than Revis taken with the No. 13 pick since 1970. It would be even harder if you just ranked the player based on his prime rather than full career.
Tony Gonzalez (AV of 115) is the best player taken in this slot. Other standouts include Franco Harris, Mike Kenn, John Abraham and Kellen Winslow. Arizona took wide receiver Michael Floyd at No. 13 in the 2012 draft.
But we also know the quality of players often taken at No. 13 is still on the board at No. 11 (38 AV) and No. 15 (34) as well. Realistically the range is even wider than that when you consider the reaches teams love to make in the top 10.
For research purposes, let’s stick with the 11-15 range of picks.
Revis was in fact the 14th overall pick in 2007. His weighted AV is 66 and counting. That ranks 36th among all players drafted 11-15 since 1970. The only players with more All-Pro selections than Revis’ three are Gonzalez (five), Warren Sapp (four), DeMarcus Ware (four) and Patrick Willis (four).
All signs point to Revis being one of the most elite players ever taken in this range of the draft. That is hard to beat. How many of these 64 players drafted 11-15 since 2000 (Revis aside) would you rather have?
Not many. I highlighted eight names as the best career competition. Going forward, certainly no one would rather have Dwight Freeney or John Abraham. Both players are currently unemployed.
There’s also the fact that Tampa Bay does not have a wide range of players to target, which decreases the probability of picking up a high-quality player.
A team cannot ignore their needs in the draft. Someone like Geno Smith still sitting there at No. 13 may be the best value, but it is irrelevant to the Buccaneers because of Freeman.
At No. 13, Tampa Bay will likely not draft any offensive position except maybe tight end. Even that is a reach. It is not like Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert gives Tampa Bay a better chance at the playoffs than Revis. Tampa Bay perhaps could use an upgrade at right tackle, though it’s not like teams often use the No. 13 pick to do that.
Most defensive positions are in play except for safety. Linebacker in Schiano’s 4-3 defense is not much of a need with young players like Lavonte David and Mason Foster filling two of the starting positions.
Various mock drafts have linked Tampa Bay at No. 13 to 2013 prospects like cornerback Xavier Rhodes (Florida State), defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (BYU) and defensive end Bjoern Werner (Florida State). Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner falling to Tampa Bay is just wishful thinking on the part of fans.
Is Rhodes, at a reduced price, going to be better than Revis in the next four years? Can Ansah be like J.J. Watt (11th pick in 2011) or Jason Pierre-Paul (15th pick in 2010)?
Let’s also not pretend the Buccaneers are an elite franchise when it comes to getting results in the draft. Settling for one of those few players they should realistically be looking at is not quite as attractive as the dangling Revis carrot.
Revis and the Value of an Experienced Cornerback
While you do not expect to draft another Revis, the Buccaneers also are not trading for a healthy, 22-year-old Revis here.
Before the torn ACL, you knew exactly what you were getting with Revis. You get a cornerback that will lock onto the best receiver the opponent has to offer each week. Many quarterbacks are afraid to throw his way, because he does have great ball skills.
These skills should translate to any team Revis signs with, so forget about any theory that Rex Ryan made him what he is.
After the injury that cost Revis 14 games, he enters 2013 (his seventh season) as a 28-year-old cornerback. People start to cringe when they see a player getting close to that 30 mark, especially when a torn ACL is involved.
But Revis has already lasted nearly twice as long as the average NFL career and superstar players rarely succumb to such injuries. Just look at how Adrian Peterson returned from this injury to play such a physical position.
Sticking to Revis’ position, many play at a high level well into their 30s. Using Pro-Football-Reference again, since 1950 there have been 120 defensive backs to accumulate at least 42 AV at age 28 or older.
Remember, 42 is the average AV return on the No. 13 pick in the draft. That’s for the entire career. This is just looking at what players did after turning 28.
A total of 56 players had at least 60 AV. Now this does include safeties as well as cornerbacks, but many great cornerbacks also move to safety late in their career.
If you are as good as Revis, your career is in all likelihood going to continue. This was not a Sterling Sharpe type of injury. Consider some of the past greats at cornerback late in their careers:
- Rod Woodson was 30 when he tore his ACL in 1995. He returned to start 120 more games and make five more Pro Bowls (four at safety).
- The aforementioned Ronde Barber has started 215 consecutive games, only making the move to safety last year. He was twice a first-team All-Pro selection for the Buccaneers at ages 29 and 30.
- Charles Woodson broke his leg at 29, signed with Green Bay in 2006 and helped the Packers win a Super Bowl while being a four-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro cornerback. Those accolades came when he was ages 32-35.
- After helping the 49ers win a Super Bowl, Deion Sanders won another with Dallas in 1995 at age 28. He then was named an All-Pro in three straight seasons and a Pro Bowl cornerback in four straight.
- Darrell Green played for the Redskins until he was 42 years old. From ages 28-31 (1988-91), he had 12 interceptions, two Pro Bowls, a first-team All-Pro and won a Super Bowl.
- After turning 28, Mel Blount started 116 games, picked off 34 more passes, was responsible for a rule change and still helped the Steelers win two more Super Bowls.
- Mike Haynes made three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams for the Raiders at ages 31-33.
- Night Train Lane was an All-Pro for the Lions at ages 34-35.
- Since turning 28, Champ Bailey has started 99 games, intercepted 23 passes and made six Pro Bowls for Denver.
- Ken Riley is one of the greatest players to never make a Pro Bowl. He had 42 of his 65 interceptions after turning 28.
The examples go on and on. At least 69 defensive backs have been named a first-team All-Pro after turning 28 (34 of them doing it multiple times).
So there is a good chance Revis can give the Buccaneers some strong years, but you also have to look at the value of the position itself.
Only 13 cornerbacks have been drafted in the first 13 picks since 2000. That is just 7.7 percent of all picks, which puts cornerback near the bottom of valued positions at the top of the draft. One of those cornerbacks, Antrell Rolle, was eventually converted to safety.
Only five have been drafted since 2006.
While the overall importance of cornerback is increasing, the fact is these players continue to get devalued because they can only guard one player per play. Let’s also face the reality that many cornerbacks offer little value in run defense.
That is why defensive linemen continue to dominate the top of the draft. Not only can you find a pass-rusher, but many of these athletic freaks can stop the run as well. They can draw double teams. They are harder to deal with than one cornerback.
The elite quarterbacks already know how to deal with elite cornerbacks: they throw to the open receivers guarded by the inferior corners.
Cornerbacks' value has increased as most of the league is predominantly featuring a pass-first offense, but the same issue remains: it is only one guy. Offenses are loading up with multiple receiver sets, meaning you have to have a starting-caliber player as your nickel back these days.
Revis’ first elite year was 2009 when the Jets had clearly the best defense in football in Ryan’s rookie season. But match them up with a team like the Colts with a great quarterback and the capability to field multiple receivers, and all it took was one injury in the secondary for Peyton Manning to rip them apart in the 2009 AFC Championship.
Don’t get me wrong. Revis Island is a fantastic asset to have that you just cannot easily find with another cornerback. To go into a game and know he will shadow the opponent’s best receiver makes things easier on the rest of the team.
But it’s still just one guy, and we keep seeing championship-winning teams having multiple receivers to throw to. That archaic model of watching Andre Johnson or Calvin Johnson dominate does not work anymore like it did for Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice.
A team needs multiple receivers and multiple cornerbacks in today’s NFL. The Buccaneers have the safeties, Revis would give them the stud cornerback, but he will not transform this defense by himself into an elite unit.
If the Buccaneers can find another quality starting cornerback in next year’s draft (or the second round this year), then you will see the Revis' value increase. But the Buccaneers cannot realistically see themselves as a San Francisco, which is a contending team loaded with talent that clearly needs an upgrade in the secondary to get over the hump.
There is more work to be done in Tampa Bay.
Deal or No Deal?
It does look like the Jets have crossed the point of no return with Revis. He will be moved, but the team should be waiting on the best offer possible. We still have two weeks before the draft, so sit tight.
At face value, this proposed trade would appear to be suitable for both teams assuming Tampa Bay continues to build wisely. They were big spenders in free agency last year, and while that seems like the easy route to a good player, teams cannot rely on it too often or else you end up having to pay a few veterans a ton of your cap-limited money.
Acquiring Revis would certainly fill a big need for the Buccaneers, but you have to be fully confident he will be the player he was before the injury. Right now, there is no way of knowing that, but that’s why decision making this time of year draws the lines between which teams know how to handle their business and which ones struggle.
The smart teams continue to find ways to keep their franchise players happy, while teams like the Jets and Buccaneers engage in unfathomable trade talk like this for the league’s best cornerback.
Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive, and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.