As we head to the offseason, a huge issue looms over the Jets. Darrelle Revis is entering his contract year. The Jets cannot let him get to free agency next year. They have two options, locking him up long-term and trading him. I have heard arguments for trading him. While I very much respect many of the individuals making these arguments, I am unconvinced by them. I believe the only option for the Jets is to figure out a way to keep Revis on this team for the rest of his prime. Below I will spell out my case.
The Jets are in bad salary cap position. They can't afford Revis, can they? Moving his salary off the team clear up cap space. Sounds good, right? It's not that simple. NYJetsCap.com, the ultimate source for salary cap information seems to indicate the Jets end up with less cap space in 2013 by trading Revis than they do with holding onto him. It doesn't help in the short term. In the long term, the Jets aren't in cap hell. No team is. Contracts run out in the NFL.
In fact, this suggests the only way for the Jets to create cap space involving Revis in 2013 is to give him a contract extension and structure it in a way that lowers his cap number next year and puts off the big cap numbers to a date where the Jets will be in a position to afford it.
The Jets are likely to be rebuilding. That means they should sell Revis off for Draft picks, right? I don't see it. Rebuilding doesn't mean gutting your roster of any and all talent. It means accepting you don't have the right pieces in place so you figure out which pieces need to go and which are worth building around. It's easier to build a house when the foundation is already there. Similarly, having players like Revis, Mangold, Wilkerson, Coples, and Ferguson around will make rebuilding the Jets into a contender a much shorter trip than it would be otherwise. If starting from scratch without any talent on the team was such a good idea, teams like the Bills and the Lions wouldn't be on their second decade of rebuilding. Revis is 27 years old. He presumably has a lot of time left playing at a high level.
You will never get equal value in a trade for Revis. Look at the last time the best corner in the league was traded. Washington had to throw in a second round pick with Bailey to Denver to get Clinton Portis. The Jets aren't really in a position to take a big name, big money player like Portis so any trade will presumably involve Draft picks. The last defensive player comparable to Revis traded was probably Jared Allen, who fetched a first round pick and a pair of third rounders. Allen wasn't coming off a torn ACL either. Revis' value is hurt a bit by his injury. The other thing that hurts his value is any team trading for him will have to give a big contract. I think equal value for Revis is something like two first rounders and a second. That isn't happening. Even if the Jets got that, I would be hesitant to make a trade because of a lesson Peter Griffin learned.
Revis is a great player. Draft picks could turn out to be anything. They might turn out to be a great player. You're giving a way a guaranteed player to find out whether you get in return is as good. Yes, Draft picks cost less so you could conceivably find another transcendent player for cheaper, but that is unlikely. Revis' higher cost is the price you pay for getting known greatness instead of just an outside chance at it.
Consider this as well. Revis' average cap cost to the Jets in his last contract was $10 million per season. How many ways have teams spent $10 million better signing free agents on the open market? You might be able to come up with a handful of examples, but I don't think there are many with more value. The vast majority of the money spent has had significantly less value. Even if that number goes up a bit in Revis' next contract, the point stands.
Yes, the Jets have been burned by giving out big contracts, but Revis is one of the few who has lived up to expectations after he was paid. If everybody performed to their contract like Revis has, we would likely be getting ready for a first round bye. Big contracts to elite players don't land you in cap hell. Big contracts to mediocre players (Pace, Scott, Holmes, Sanchez) do.
Fixing the real problems
The Jets have handled the loss of Revis well, right? They have one of the best pass defenses in the league. This shows they don't need Revis. They can deal Revis to help fix the real problems. Not so fast.
First, you are assuming Antonio Cromartie is going to continue playing at a top level. That's pretty risky given Cro's track record of inconsistency.
Second, this is a different defense with Revis. Yes, people should be commended for weathering the loss of Revis. Let's not go crazy here, though. Revis does things Cromartie cannot. He totally changes the complexion of the defense.
Some people say Revis isn't as important as a pass rusher. Darrelle only locks down one receiver. A pass rusher impacts the entire pass. That's misguided in my view. The best pass rushers usually do not impact even one out of five pass attempts with pressure. Revis eliminates some of the most dynamic weapons in football on every single play when he lines up against them. He is a once in a generation talent. You can trust him to take away one half of the field. If you don't think that matters, just remember one stat line from a Playoff game. Reggie Wayne: 1 catch, 1 yard.
Football is a game of one on ones. When you can trust a cornerback to win his one on one every single play, you can reallocate resources that would go to help that corner on every other team in the league. The Jets have been able to roll coverage to other players and send extra blitzes in the past because they know they have Revis to bail them out.
When we evaluate needs in the offseason, we talk in terms of strengths and weaknesses. There's also a difference between being merely good at a spot and being dominant. Yes, the Jets have pressing needs, but there are other ways to address them without taking away the most dominant defensive player in the game away.
It won't be easy. Contract negotiations with elite players never are. There is a way the Jets can lock up Darrelle Revis this offseason. There has to be some way to get it done in a manner that makes sense for both parties. It is very important to do so. Any trade of Revis will be the result of a monumental failure from this franchise. Feel free to view it differently. That's how I see it.