Patriots Sign Darrelle Revis, Still the NFL's Best Cornerback

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Patriots Sign Darrelle Revis, Still the NFL's Best Cornerback
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The NFL's best cornerback is now a member of the New England Patriots.

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis was released on the second day of free agency after the Buccaneers found themselves unable to unload his contract, via trade, to another team.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter on Twitter, Revis has signed with the New England Patriots on a one-year, $12 million deal. 

Until Revis signs with another team—and probably after—much will likely be said about "how much Revis has left" and "how much should a team spend on a cornerback on his third team in as many years?"

Any concern about Revis' top-notch ability is, frankly, silly. 

Revis is the best cornerback in football today, and he should be for some time. 

 

Revis Being Cut Wasn't About Talent

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

If simply looking at the talent on the field, there's no way in Hades that Revis gets released or even remotely dangled in a trade by the Buccaneers. 

Yet, the NFL isn't just football. It's also a business. 

More notably, the NFL is a business that operates under a salary-cap structure. That salary cap—this year at $133 million (around $13 million more than in 2013)—doesn't allow teams to simply keep every talented player on their rosters. Hard decisions have to be made when the structure of the team simply doesn't allow for a player to be kept at his desired price tag. 

"Desired" is an important word in that previous sentence. 

After years in New York and a seemingly constant desire to get paid more each and every year as he established himself as the NFL's elite (only?) shutdown corner, Revis has amassed quite the reputation for his love of the almighty dollar. 

Revis' base salary of $13 million per year (a $16 million cap hit) ranked him third among the NFL's highest-paid players per year.

The structure of the deal may have been an even bigger offender than the cap hit, as Revis was essentially the NFL's equivalent of a leased car. The former Buccaneers regime knew that they needed to win in 2013 or they would be fired (they didn't, and they were). So, Revis was signed to a big-money deal. 

Back to that list of highly paid NFL players: Not only was Revis the highest-paid cornerback in 2013 by a considerable margin, but of the three cornerbacks among the 25 highest-paid players on that list, all three were cut this offseason—Revis, Cortland Finnegan and Champ Bailey. 

While the Buccaneers said, repeatedly, that Revis' man-coverage ability wouldn't be a problem in Lovie Smith's Tampa 2 defense, it's one thing to allow your best player to do what he does best and an entirely different thing to invest a ton of money in a position that, ideally, won't cost as much as defensive end. 

Put another way: Thanks to head coach Lovie Smith's scheme sensibilities, it makes far more sense to sign defensive end Michael Johnson and Alterraun Verner rather than keeping one Revis at a $16 million hit. 

The fact that Verner is both well-versed in the Cover 2 and capable in man coverage is a plus, but this is a money matter, not a talent matter. Verner had a good year in 2013 and earned his contract with the Buccaneers. Yet, he's not close to Revis in terms of overall talent. 

The difference between Revis and those other two highly paid, newly free-agent cornerbacks is that Revis is still the best at what he does. Unlike those two, he has not lost a step since signing his massive deal. 

It's why Revis was snapped up and is still highly paid, while Finnegan and Bailey struggle to do the same. 

 

Revis Is Not Old and He's Clearly Healthy

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Revis has been in the collective NFL consciousness for so long, that it seems as if he's been there forever. He's like the college basketball sharpshooter who stays for all four years, but it feels more like eight or nine by the time he graduates. 

Repeat it with me: Revis is only 28 years old. 

Even in NFL terms, that's not old. Even for cornerbacks, that's not old. Even for a guy who's had knee surgery, that's not old.

I know Revis isn't old, because he's only five months older than I am. I have it on pretty good authority that I'm not old either. If anyone tries to tell you he's old, they better be under the age of 10, when everyone who can drive or grow facial hair is clearly old.

The problem is: We, collectively, expect great players to have a shelf life. No one can be on top forever, of course, and so we anoint others (sometimes prematurely) to take their place. So, someone like Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman or even Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden is mentioned as successor to the top cornerback throne long before Revis is ready to abdicate. 

As Ty Schalter revealed in his piece, "When Does Age Catch Up to NFL Players?" there's simply no empirical data to suggest that cornerback careers are that much shorter than other positions. So, it's not as if Revis has a shorter NFL "lifespan" because of the position he plays. 

Moreover, Schalter noted that:

"Though they have a reputation for being mercurial, [defensive backs] actually have the most dependable, consistent production of any position group. The average [approximate value], incredibly, rises consistently from the first year to the 16th!"

Defensive backs—especially good ones like Revis—aren't just the sum of their physical abilities. Great cornerbacks are able to shut down receivers because they understand the schemes and the game overall as well or better than any receiver they face. 

To use quarterbacks, a more familiar position to most of us, as an example: Peyton Manning's physical skills have been declining for years—before, and certainly after his neck injury. However, the beauty of Manning's game this past season was not how hard he was throwing the ball, but in what he was able to do to mitigate the loss of arm strength...anticipation, timing, mastery of the offense and incredible poise under pressure. 

For Revis, knowledge of the game, fluidity, physicality, aggressiveness and incredible ball skills will mitigate when his athleticism drops off. 

But is he healthy?

I'll let Revis' play last year answer that question. 

 

When Allowed to Do What He Does Best, Revis Shined 

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

One of the most obvious decisions in all of football last season was firing Buccaneers then-head coach Greg Schiano. It was a move I called for after 2012 and one that was clearly inevitable from early on in his Buccaneers tenure. 

The most damning attribute that proved Schiano should be fired was not only his inability to put star players like Revis and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in the best possible positions to succeed, but also his hubris in thinking that he and his staff could get away with it and even lie about what they were doing. 

Early into Revis' time with the Buccaneers, he started to sour about how much zone he was being asked to run. Some, like Bleacher Report's Cian Fahey, noticed as well. It isn't as if Revis can't play zone—he can—but it's crazy to take him out of what he does best...what he does better than anyone else. 

Eventually, defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan even lashed out at fans, telling them to come coach the team if they thought they knew so much better than he and Schiano did. 

Fahey broke down Revis' 2013 game tape for his website, Pre-Snap Reads. He came away with this conclusion after marking that Revis' success rate in coverage was over 81.9 percent—compared to only 78.2 percent for Sherman:

The fact that Darrelle Revis only had 171 total qualifying plays in 16 games of football reflects how poor of a coach Greg Schiano was. Schiano blatantly didn’t understand what makes Revis a special player. If he had put Revis in man coverage more often and played him on an island, Revis would have had less success individually, but the defense as a whole would have been much better off.

To close the column, Fahey wrote: "Revis Island is still a destination for the damned."

If Revis was feeling any ill effects from his knee injury in 2013, it didn't show when he was in man coverage. He was fantastic, grading out as Pro Football Focus' top cornerback for the season:

Screenshot via PFF

In my own personal grading, I had Revis just about head-to-head with Sherman and both slightly ahead of the Indianapolis Colts' Vontae Davis. I also voted for Revis as a first-team All-Pro cornerback along with Sherman. 

Revis earned his big contract in Tampa Bay and he's about to do the same in New England. He's the best cornerback in football, and it's not really up for debate. 

 

Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter. 

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