The Patriots Have a Plan
Darrelle Revis is a Jet, and the Patriots are back to square one at cornerback, a position that has vexed them since the days of Ty Law and Asante Samuel.
Why did this happen?
It’s fairly simple. The Patriots didn’t come close to the money the Jets did. The Jets fully guaranteed $39 million, all in the first three seasons, of a five-year contract that has a max value of $70 million. The Patriots didn’t approach that. End of story.
Forget all the window dressing about it being fait accompli that Revis would return to the Big Apple. All things being equal, would he want to be in New York? Of course. Revis is a business, man. If you’re 30 years old and want to maximize your value on and off the field before you hang up your cleats, what’s going to net you more money: being the toast of Boylston Street or the returned savior on Broadway? Please. There’s no contest.
But that was not the determining factor, or close to it.
With Team A, you will earn $39 million after signing your name no matter if one of the seven plagues hits you in three years.
With Team B, you will have a better chance to win titles and make close to the same money if fully healthy, but B wants to include outs in case you get banged up in a car accident on the way to practice and can’t play.
Which would you choose as a player? Team A every single time.
Look, I’m not blaming the Patriots. They are the best in the league at fielding the most competitive team year in and year out for the past 15 seasons. They’ve made the conference championship game six times in nine years, for crying out loud. That’s incredible. And it happened, in part, because they have a way of doing things, and that includes not being beholden to players over 30 years old who might suddenly go downhill.
The most the Patriots have fully guaranteed is $33 million to Tom Brady in 2013, according to Jason Fitzgerald at Over The Cap. The highest for non-quarterbacks: safety Devin McCourty ($22 million) just edged Logan Mankins’ previous record ($21.5 million). The Patriots just don’t do that, in part, because they usually have a pretty good roster with a franchise quarterback and, unlike teams like the Jets, don’t usually have $40 million in cap space on hand in any given year (or ever). They just don’t like forking over huge guarantees without an out, which was handy in cases like Jonathan Fanene and Aaron Hernandez. Whether part of that reason is the Krafts’ reluctance to reach deep in their pockets to write the big escrow checks needed for fully guaranteed contracts (it sure is curious why they pay out signing bonuses in installments, or why Brady helped keep the Krafts from writing a $24 million escrow check with his latest restructure, considering Dolphins owner Stephen Ross just wrote a $60 million escrow check for Ndamukong Suh), or whether it’s just something Bill Belichick is adamant about, it’s been a consistent pattern of business for the Patriots.
The Patriots had a financial line they wouldn’t cross with Revis, and that was the end of that. I fully believe that if the Patriots were in the ballpark of the Jets—say around $35 million fully guaranteed—Revis would have stayed in New England with an eye on winning a few more titles. But the Patriots didn’t come close, so there really was no choice for Revis. Don’t listen to all the noise about New York, or about Woody Johnson’s “tampering” (sure, Johnson broke the tampering rule, but if you think actual tampering occurred, I have packaged snow to sell you). This was a black-and-white financial decision for the best businessman to ever grace the gridiron. Despite all the happy talk before, during and after the season about how both sides wanted to continue the marriage, Revis was never going to sign a contract extension before hitting free agency unless it was at the Jets’ level. And the Patriots couldn’t have picked up the $20 million option for 2015—that wasn’t going to happen. Team Revis was masterful once again at maximizing his leverage. Tip of the cap to agents Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod, and uncle Sean Gilbert. In the communist world of football, Team Revis is the capitalist conqueror for non-quarterbacks.
The question is, what now for the Patriots? It’s no accident they got that fourth Super Bowl ring for the first time in 10 years because they could play very good man-to-man defense, although the health of Rob Gronkowski should not be overlooked. The subtraction of Revis (and likely Brandon Browner) certainly will have a trickledown effect. They morphed into a Cover 1 team (one deep safety, with man coverage underneath) last season. Do the math. Four rushers plus one deep safety left six players to cover (or an extra pass rusher) against an offense’s five eligible receivers. In long yardage, the Patriots inserted another deep safety, which meant man underneath or, usually, one deep safety with Devin McCourty diving to double a dangerous threat. That’s tough sledding for a passing offense.
Currently constituted, the Patriots do not have the type of coverage players that will allow them to continue with the same scheme, but they will not be morphing back into a soft zone team. They haven’t done that since 2010. Unless they find another strong cover corner (and they’ll be trying for one or two from now until the trading deadline), they’ll go back to being a spin-the-dial defense: mixing and maxing coverages that are best against each specific opponent. It’s what they do. The signing of former Browns outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard marks the first time they’ve entered an offseason with three bonafide pass rushers since the glory days, but that isn’t a departure. They’ve just stopped trying to do it on the cheap with later picks like Jake Bequette, Michael Buchanon and Markell Carter, and shopping in the discount veteran bin for players like Andre Carter and Mark Anderson. Sheard’s best football is in front of him, and he gets thrown into the 2016 decision basket, when the contracts of Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and Sheard are all due to expire. And I’m sure the Patriots will be looking for an interior player who brings some pass-rush ability (there has been reported interest in Detroit’s Nick Fairley). Again, that’s not a departure. They do that every offseason.
The Patriots do what they do. On the field, and in contract negotiations.
When it comes to the 2015 Patriots and their defense of the Lombardi Trophy, Belichick will do what he always does: put the players in the best position to succeed on a week-to-week basis. They’ll win their normal 11 or 12 games, take the AFC East as long as Brady is healthy, and then the postseason will depend on health and luck, like always. Revis won’t be a part of it because his business plan was different than the Patriots, but will that make their margin of error any worse? The Patriots were one play away from losing the Super Bowl, and one play away from getting upset by the Ravens. Sounds like every season in New England. Don’t expect this one to be any different.
1. It's hard not to be impressed with what new Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan has done, thanks in large part to the hard work done by John Idzik in his one season. So far, the Jets have added three standout cornerbacks—Darrelle Revis, Buster Skrine and Antonio Cromartie (a penny for Rex Ryan’s thoughts right now)—and former Bears receiver Brandon Marshall. The Jets are better, and a competent quarterback (Marcus Mariota?) away from contending for a playoff spot. I still don’t like their outside linebackers, and the Jets now have two former overrated and overpaid Seahawks on the right side of their line (tackle Breno Giacomini last season, guard James Carpenter now) to go along with a descending left tackle (D’Brickashaw Ferguson). But they are better, and the defense will keep them in just about every game.
2. It will be interesting to compare and contrast where the Jets finish this season compared to the Browns last year. After clearing up the cap and accumulating draft picks, the Browns fired Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi after a 4-12 season in 2013. Ray Farmer was the beneficiary of their work and the Browns finished 7-9. Maccagnan is in a similar position with the Jets after John Idzik was fired after a 4-12 season: tons of cap space, flush with draft picks and no franchise quarterback. Will Maccagnan best Farmer?
3. Chip Kelly had me until he reportedly guaranteed $21 million to DeMarco Murray. For a forward thinker, that’s an old-school mindset.
4. I like the Colts’ additions of Andre Johnson and Frank Gore in the short term (not crazy about the money for aging former stars), and Trent Cole will help a terrible pass rush. But the offensive line, defensive interior and secondary are all still weak. Still much work to be done for the Colts to be considered AFC contenders. In the mix, but not contenders.
5. The Giants inking Tom Coughlin to an extension got me thinking about this question: who was the last coach who was allowed to fire and replace each of their coordinators (offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo entered last season, Steve Spagnuolo returns this season) in consecutive seasons? No one comes to mind. Shows what kind of cachet two Super Bowl rings bring you (not that it shouldn’t). Shoot me an email if you can think of one.
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