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Building a NY Jets Golden Age Part 3: Trading Revis

Is trading Darrelle Revis in the best interests of the NY Jets?


In the first two parts of this series we discussed the relative merits of a defense driven philosophy vs. a QB driven philosophy. I came down firmly on the side of a QB driven philosophy of team building. There is no one magic formula for success. Team building is too complex for that. But while you cannot guarantee success no matter what direction you choose to proceed in, the job of the front office is to maximize the chances of dominance. If, just to throw out random numbers, the chances are only 20% of ever building a dynasty with a QB driven system, then it is easy to criticize the approach, as you have an 80% chance of failure. But this criticism misses the mark. The question isn't how can we guarantee a dynasty? That is simply impossible. If you want a guarantee, you're in the wrong business. Any path you choose is more likely than not to fail to produce a dynasty, so the more relevant question is what produces the best odds? Again, just to throw out numbers, if your chances are only 20% with a QB driven philosophy but they are only 15% or less with the next best philosophy, it makes little sense to criticize choosing the best philosophy for its large chance of failure when any other choice is even worse. The job here is to choose the best path to dominance, even if that path is fraught with difficulties, and I believe the best path is through the QB.

If the Jets were to commit to a QB driven philosophy, they face a difficult issue in finding the right QB. How do they find the assets necessary for the Jets to attain the right QB? Assuming for the purpose of argument that the Jets will not be so bad that they get into the top 5 of the 2103 or 2014 drafts, the Jets will likely need to move some major assets in terms of players and/or picks in order to be in a position to trade up. Where are those assets going to come from? Well, let's take a look at what assets the Jets have that might be moved. To get the premium haul of draft picks the Jets would need to put themselves in optimum trade up position, they will have to trade away premium assets. That narrows the field considerably.

Assuming the Jets make a trade sometime in 2013 to improve their draft assets, amongst current players there are at most 8 players that meet that criteria: Santonio Holmes, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, David Harris, Antonio Cromartie, Darrelle Revis, Muhammed Wilkerson and Quinton Coples. Of those, Wilkerson and Coples can probably be eliminated because, although they have shown great promise, they have not yet reached the status necessary to bring back a premium set of picks in a trade. Trading Ferguson would result in an immediate $10 million+ cap hit, as well as large base salaries to be picked up by any trading partner for each of the 5 years from 2013 through 2017. Given Ferguson's recent decline in his play, it is unlikely we could get enough back to justify the enormous cap hit we would take, as well as the immediate gaping hole at LT we would have to fill. Santonio Holmes presents a similar problem, representing a $10 million+ cap hit, large base salaries to be picked up by the Jets trading partner in 2013, 2014 and 2015, a serious injury to recover from, and little in the way of recent production to justify much in the way of draft picks in return. Holmes looks essentially untradeable.

That leaves Harris, Mangold, Cromartie and Revis. Harris is virtually untradeable due to his declining play and his enormous 2013 base salary of nearly $11 million. Any team trading for Harris would have to take that base salary into their cap, for a good but not great player on the decline. That doesn't seem likely. Cromartie is a possibility. The Jets would only take a $2.5 million cap hit in 2013 if they traded him, and his base salary in 2013 of $7 million is reasonable for a CB of his caliber. Unfortunately, the level of play the Jets have gotten out of Cromartie this year is significantly better than his overall career. Any team looking to acquire him would likely take into acccount his entire career arc, in which he's been a very good but not quite a perennial Pro Bowl talent. Such a talent, at the age of 29, might bring back a 1st round pick, but would be unlikely to garner the Jets the big haul they need. That leaves, appropriately enough, the only 2 lights out HOF talents on the Jets: Mangold and Revis. Mangold will be 29 in 2013, Revis will be 28. They both will be in the prime of their careers. Revis is an all time great, Mangold a notch below that but still plenty valuable. Mangold's base salaries in 2013 through 2017 make him extremely valuable cap-wise to a potential trading partner. During those 5 years his cap # for an acquirer gradually rises from $2.5 million in 2013 to a maximum of $6 million in 2017, an extremely cap friendly contract for any potential trade partner. Unfortunately, the low base salaries for Mangold reflect the high signing bonuses he has already received from the Jets. Since those signing bonuses are spread over the length of the contract for cap purposes, but immediately accelerated upon a trade, Mangold would cost the Jets $10 million+ in cap space in any trade. So while he is as likely as anyone on the Jets roster to bring back multiple high picks in a trade, he also would cost the Jets huge cap space for 2013. That may or may not be a deal breaker, but there is also the fact that the Jets control a perennial Pro Bowl center for the next 5 years, under a contract that is not unreasonable given his talent level. That makes Mangold probably the one Jet above all that should be retained if at all possible. Add in the fact that the Jets would be trying to trade Mangold in order to acquire a franchise QB. By trading Mangold, the Jets would lose the one truly great talent they have on offense, and change an average offensive line into one of the worst lines in football. That hardly seems an ideal environment in which to place your new franchise QB.

That brings us to Revis. I know, I know, heresy! How could the Jets even think of trading without a doubt the greatest player ever to wear the Jets uniform? Revis is the only player in Jets history to be in the conversation for the GOAT at his position, and you want to trade him, Smackdad? Are you insane? Well, want is probably too strong a word. I don't want to trade Revis. I just recognize that it may be in the Jets best interests to do so. Before you begin the ritual stoning of me, hear me out and see if you might in fact think the idea has some merit.

As we explored earlier here, the superb play of Antonio Cromartie and the solid play of our other corners in the absence of Darrelle Revis may have changed the way the Jets view Revis' value. Maybe the Jets defense does not need Revis quite as much as they used to think.

Revis becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2013 season, provided he does not hold out at any time prior to that. He will not hold out, as doing so automatically extends his contract an additional 3 years on terms very favorable to the Jets. So it seems likely Revis will be going through all his necessary rehabilitation, minicamps and training camp in 2013. By the time the Jets get a few games into the regular season, the Jets and the rest of the NFL are likely to know if Revis has returned to his old form.

Let's assume for argument's sake Revis looks like he's 100% in 2013. The Jets then control arguably the best CB ever to play the game, but only until the end of the 2013-2014 season. If the Jets choose to trade Revis, they will have to do it by the midway point of the season, before the trade deadline passes. By doing so, the Jets would take a huge $9 million cap hit, which sounds like a deal breaker, right? Well, maybe not. Consider this: in order to have any chance to resign Revis, the Jets will have to get it done sometime prior to or during the 2013 season. Waiting any longer risks losing Revis to unrestricted free agent status, and then Revis would hold all the leverage. In addition, it seems unlikely the Jets will resign Revis before the end of the 2012-2013 season, as the risk of him never returning to form at that time is just too great. So let's assume the Jets plan, if they plan to sign Revis at all, is to get the deal done sometime after the 2013 Super Bowl and before the 2014 Super Bowl. If that is in fact the case, then the Jets will have no choice by the start of the 2013 season but to ALREADY have either cleared the necessary cap space to sign Revis, or at a minimum to have planned the necessary cuts for the 2013 season as soon as the Revis deal is done. In other words, that gigantic $9 million cap hit that kicks in if Revis is traded is unlike any other cap hit we would face if we traded any of the other possible players, because Revis' impending free agency REQUIRES the Jets to already plan for mega new cap space devoted to Revis in 2013 REGARDLESS OF WHAT THE JETS EVENTUALLY DO WITH HIM. If the Jets sign Revis, they take a giant new cap hit for the new contract. If the Jets trade him, they take a giant cap hit for the remaining prorated bonus money, to the tune of $9 million. No matter what the Jets do, the cap hit for Revis MUST be planned for prior to the start of the 2013 season. A Revis trade is therefore uniquely affordable in a way that the trade of any player not scheduled to be a free agent in 2014 (i.e., all other top trade possibilities for the Jets) is not.

This cap space quirk is a game changer. Suddenly it seems that trading Revis may not create the cap problems it looks like it would at first glance. Still, why on earth would the Jets ever, ever, ever want to trade Revis? Shouldn't they instead try to build around the greatest player they've ever had? In an ideal world, yes, they should. But this is not an ideal world. Let's go back for a moment to the beginning of the 2012 season. Revis is complaining to anyone who will listen that the Jets promised him they would renegotiate his contract after 2 years. In his words, the contract signed in 2010 was meant by both parties to be a temporary solutution, a Bandaid until a more permanent arrangement could be worked out to make Revis a Jet for life. Revis' viewpoint on this is not without merit, as there was much talk at the time that the deal would have to be reworked at a later date.

The Jets, however, seem to have a different recollection of the process. They claim there was no such gentleman's handshake agreement to renegotiate after 2 years, that Revis had been well paid, and that Revis should honor his contract. At this, Revis fumed, threatened to hold out, but eventually reported on time and the dispute was apparently forgotten. But was it in fact forgotten?

Recall how much animosity was generated during the 2010 contract negotiations. Recall also how very much Tannenbaum and the Jets detest working with Revis' agents. There clearly is bad blood on the Jets' side, and there is at least some reason to believe the Jets may have no interest in ever again negotiating with the Revis group.

Now consider what the Jets did in early 2012. Revis clearly wanted to enter into a new contract. The Jets clearly knew they would never have more leverage over Revis than in 2012, when free agency was still 2 years away and the terms of the deal made a holdout unlikely. At that time Revis could not hold out and he could not become a free agent. Considering the Jets knew they would have to renegotiate within a year or so anyway, and they also knew that with each passing month Revis gained leverage and the Jets lost it, why then did the Jets make no attempt whatsoever to renegotiate? If their intention was to make Revis a Jet for life, THAT was the time. They had no way of knowing Revis would get hurt and thus give the Jets a little more leverage. They knew by waiting the temptation to just play out the string and declare himself a free agent would grow greater for Revis by the month. They also knew there was already some bad blood, yet they extended no olive branch, conceded nothing, and made no attempt to renegotiate. In addition, they all but called Revis and his representatives liars for claiming there was a handshake agreement to renegotiate in 2012. This despite Revis clearly being a man who would not take such tactics lightly, and his representatives clearly being a team likely to take that as a slap in the face. Ask yourself, does that sound like the the actions of an organization that intends to resign Revis? At a minimum, it sounds like the Jets were somewhat ambivalent on the idea of a new deal. At a maximum, it may indicate the Jets had already decided to move on.

Now consider Revis' viewpoint in all this. After very rancorous negotiations in 2010, Revis comes out of it with a new deal which, in his mind, is a Bandaid which the Jets promised to redo in 2 years. Now, nobody other than the people actually in that room can ever know for certain whether such a promise was made, but the reality is not nearly so important as the perception. In Revis' mind, it WAS a promise. And in Revis' mind, the Jets reneged. Now he's suffered a serious injury, which, had his contract been taken care of the way he believes the Jets promised him, would be a nonissue. Instead, he now goes into a contract year off a serious knee injury, having to rehab and prove himself, and having a great deal of his market value at least temporarily erased, ALL BECAUSE THE JETS LIED TO HIM ( at least in his mind). How do you think he feels about the Jets organization right about now? How would you feel? Personally, I think Revis is a very proud man who feels he's been done a grievous wrong. He also is a man who can control his own destiny in just one more year. He holds all the cards, if he can just successfully rehab and play up to his usual standards. What are the odds he can't wait to stick it to the Jets and leave the minute he is able to? What are the odds Revis not only will not give the Jets a hometown discount, but will now demand a hometown premium, just to make up for his perceived slights? I think the odds are very high indeed. In fact, given his representatives, it is difficult at this point for me to imagine Revis choosing to resign with the Jets prior to testing the waters. I believe it is inevitable Revis will become an unrestricted free agent in 2014, and the Jets will either have to accept a measly 3rd round draft pick as compensation for some other team signing him or they will have to pay through the nose to retain him.

If this analysis is correct, then it becomes a much less unthinkable proposition to trade Darrelle Revis. What could the Jets get back for him? Who knows? Three first round picks? 2 firsts and a second or third? It's very difficult to answer this question, as GOATs in their prime just don't get traded every day. But it seems likely the Jets could get a significant haul of draft picks for Revis, and that could set the franchise up to find the next great QB in the draft when and if the Jets identify their guy. Trade Revis? Heresy! But sometimes heresy is required to set in motion a much needed Reformation. Stay tuned. This could get very interesting.