The most mind-blowing development within the NFL's free agency window may not even involve a free agent.
The Buccaneers are "stepping up their efforts to trade" Darrelle Revis, according to FOXSports1's Alex Marvez, a potential move that would define the early portion of Lovie Smith's regime in Tampa Bay.
Revis was acquired by the Buccaneers in a trade with the Jets for a first-round and conditional fourth-round pick last April, then signed a six-year, $96 million deal. He's owed $13 million in base salary for each of the next five seasons, with a $1.5 roster bonus due on March 13. The Buccaneers could trim a whopping $16 million off their cap for the 2014 campaign and clear all of Revis' contract off their books -- with no dead money -- moving forward.
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In fact, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that if a suitable trade partner can't be found by that Wednesday deadline, Tampa Bay planned to cut Revis for the cap savings. Doing so also would keep that conditional pick in Round 4. If Revis is on the team past that March 13 cutoff, it would bump up to a third-rounder.
A straight-up release is in play because of the unusual fact that Revis' massive contract included no guaranteed money, on account of his major knee injury. Because of that, the Buccaneers would not take any financial hit by releasing their star cornerback.
Even so, the Buccaneers may find replacing the 28-year-old Revis virtually impossible. Revis bounced back from a season-ending knee injury in 2012 to earn a Pro Bowl nod in 2013 after reclaiming his spot as one of the NFL's top shutdown cornerbacks. He was part of a total overhaul in the secondary by Tampa Bay last offseason. In addition to trading for Revis, the Bucs signed safety Dashon Goldson and drafted CB Johnthan Banks to add to 2012 first-round safety Mark Barron.
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All of that occurred, of course, under former head coach Greg Schiano and GM Mark Domenik. That duo has been replaced by Smith and Jason Licht, respectively. And it may be Smith's defense, which features some elements of the Tampa-2, that is leading Licht to at least test the waters on a Revis trade. There's been ample discussion regarding how well Revis, who excels as a man-to-man defender, may fit into the defense Smith envisions for the Buccaneers.
"We’re trying to get as many good players as possible to win football games," Smith told The MMQB's Peter King shortly after being hired in January. "Any coach around would want a Darrelle Revis to be on his roster. We don’t play Cover 2 each snap. There’s a place for a good cover corner. I can’t wait to sit down with Darrelle and talk to him about his game and just kind of see as we go forward how we’re going to do this and win a lot of football games together. That’s all that’s on my mind right now. All those things work themselves out, but you’re right—the game is now more about three receivers on. And yeah, I’ve never been in a situation where we’ve had too many good corners."
Are a slight mismatch and bulky contract enough to convince the Buccaneers to unload Revis, less than a year after shipping out a Round 1 pick for him?
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The real question may be: How much would a Revis trade set back Smith and the Buccaneers?
Tampa Bay holds the No. 7 overall pick in the draft, so it could have its choice of cornerbacks should it head that direction. It also may take a run at Alterraun Verner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or other top-flight CBs in free agency minus Revis' $16 million per year. However, Licht already has an offseason wish list that figures to include upgrades at wide receiver, the offensive line, defensive end and possibly even quarterback.
Adding the need for a new No. 1 cornerback to those tasks may prove far too much for Tampa Bay to pull off in one -- and possibly two or three -- offseasons.