As the saga drags on into yet another week this spring, with any signs of progress becoming harder to discern, it's easy to look at the Darrelle Revis trade talks between New York and Tampa Bay and see a stalemate, stand-off and showdown with no end in sight.
Easy, but quite erroneous. Just because Revis for now remains a Jet doesn't mean he can't and won't become a Buc at some point in the coming 16 days, before the first round of the NFL Draft unfolds on the night of April 25. In fact, I think you can almost count on it. Unless somebody gets stupid, short-sighted, or both.
This is a trade that almost has to happen. Long before the two sides have a done deal, this is still a deal that both New York and Tampa Bay realize has to be done. The clearly understood realities are these:
? The Jets have made it obvious that they have no intention of talking long-term contract extension with free-agent-to-be Revis, and he knows it. There's really only one massive payday awaiting him amid the uncertainty of his rehabilitation from last October's ACL surgery, and it's in Tampa Bay. The Bucs are flush with salary cap room, eager to talk turkey with Revis at upwards of $15 million per year, and have made no secret of their desire to add his star power to their defense. What's for him to not like in that scenario?
? Despite what the Jets want the Bucs to believe, Tampa Bay knows New York owner Woody Johnson demands significant value in return for Revis and won't accept him walking away as a free agent next spring, with only a compensatory draft pick to show for it. That much has been understood for months now, ever since Johnson let it be known the Jets would consider moving Revis. In the NFL, once you've introduced the idea of trading one of your key players, you've just taken the first step toward doing so.
? There's not yet a trade agreement, but both sides tacitly understand Revis already has essentially made the break in his head. He may technically still be property of the Jets, but he's really an ex-Jet waiting to learn his fate and his future work address. All the drama about New York insisting Revis show up for the start of the team's voluntary offseason workouts next Monday, or forfeit $3 million in bonus money, is proof that this relationship is no longer built for the long term. If the Jets had any intention of keeping Revis, and making this thing work in 2013 or beyond, they wouldn't be trying that squeeze play on a player who is already known to be disillusioned with the organization. The divorce papers have yet to be filed, but that doesn't mean the breakup isn't happening.
So, for the time being, we're still in the shadow-dancing portion of our program. Both teams are practicing the fine art of posturing, with the Bucs clearly sending a message earlier this week -- via a Yahoo! Sports story -- that they're growing "impatient'' with the pace of trade talks, and the Jets trying to maintain the illusion of normalcy in expecting Revis to report to work on April 15, as if nothing all that unusual is going on. I think this is where I'm supposed to drop in the almost mandatory Kabuki theater reference to describe the Bucs' and Jets' early-April machinations. It's all for show, with a lot of hidden meaning.
He may be playing it quiet and coy for the most part, but I know new Jets general manager John Idzik enough to know he fully realizes the position he's in, and will undertake the most sensible and intelligent way to approach the end game with Revis. With no chance of putting the genie fully back in the bottle in terms of their disgruntled star cornerback, the Jets really only have one good option here: Make their best possible deal with the Bucs in the coming days, and move on. Preferably before both Revis and the Jets have to deal with the messy and unnecessary charade of him returning to the team complex to continue his knee rehab next week.
Not that he's asking for it, but if I were to write Idzik something of a Dear John letter, it'd go something like this:
Leverage is all well and good, and never to be wasted, as you surely know. But you don't have much to work with in this particular case. As a first-time GM, in the NFL's biggest media market, the last thing you need to start your Jets tenure is a divisive and outspoken player being held against his wishes and becoming the story of your team in 2013. Why deal with that wholly avoidable mess? If you thought the Jets' season looked like mayhem from afar in 2012, do you really want to try living the same sort of madness in your first go-round in New York?
Revis is making it clear: He'll be miserable if he must remain a Jet this season, and if you force him toshow up and play out his comeback year in contract limbo, he won't go quietly, or without the team paying a price for his unhappiness. Even worse, at the end of the year, you run the risk of Revis leaving New York and signing with arch-rival New England in free agency. Do you really want to give that doomsday scenario any chance of happening? Or to have that distinction added to your resume, even before you get your reputation firmly established in New York?
Making the best of a bad situation in this case means trading Revis to Tampa Bay, getting him out of the AFC, and receiving a first-round pick and maybe more from the Bucs in the process. It's not ideal, but it's not the nightmare that 2013 could morph into with Revis around and intent on making the team regret its stance. Don't consider it weakness or an example of letting a player call the shots. Consider it a tough but necessary step in order to not let a player, no matter who he is, hold the franchise hostage.
In your front office experience with the Bucs, Cardinals and Seahawks, you've learned that making the best decision for the long-term good of the franchise isn't always the easiest one. Dealt the hand you're holding -- a roster with multiple needs, an owner intent on not paying his No. 1 cornerback $15 million a year, and a player who is a potential locker-room headache -- the no-brainer option is to pursue the exit strategy that makes the most sense for you.
The Bucs are your best trade partner. By now, that's obvious. Don't dawdle and blow the opportunity to bring the Revis saga to a close with some semblance of a successful result. The rest of the NFL, the Jets rabid fan base, and the New York media are watching closely.
While relatively narrow, the window for the Revis trade talks is not remotely closing. Not with the draft still more than two weeks away, and the Jets reportedly seeking the Bucs' No. 13 overall pick as the centerpiece of any trade compensation package. This deal still has time to die another two or three times and still come together in a fashion that will make everyone say they knew it was going to happen all along. It does seem like trade talks that linger for a while usually end up happening in the NFL, as Kevin Kolb to Arizona back in 2011 and Alex Smith to Kansas City this year serve to remind us. Wait long enough and the smoke and fire typically converge.
As we have seen many times in the NFL, the gap between a stalemate and the striking of an agreement can be almost laughably short. Revis remains a Jet today, but the Bucs still seem to be squarely in his future. New York and Tampa Bay both know the score. Some trades just make too much sense not to happen.
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