BOSTON (CBS) — Darrelle Revis is heading home to New York, leaving a giant void in the New England Patriots’ secondary.
Revis flew back to the Jets on a five-year, $70 million contract ($39 million fully guaranteed), and reports make it sound like the Patriots knew this was coming as early as Monday. Revis played the situation perfectly, cashing in on his only season in New England with a huge contract from the team his heart is clearly still with — the team that first drafted him and gave him a taste of super stardom.
And in September, Revis will even get a shiny Super Bowl ring from the team he spurned. He is one hell of a corner, but he may be an even better businessman.
But the Patriots aren’t hurting because of the loss of a businessman — they have plenty of those. Now they are faced with the daunting task of replacing their Super Bowl secondary.
With Revis gone, and suitors lining up for free agent Brandon Browner, the Patriots will likely start 2015 without the two starting corners from their Super Bowl XLIX victory. To make the sting of (potentially) losing both players worse, there is very little on the free agent market to take their spots. Those who remain out there after the Day 1 frenzy (Tramon Williams, Antonio Comartie, Chris Culliver, just to name a few) aren’t really worth the contracts they’ll likely receive, which will no doubt price them out of New England’s budget. And forget about going out and trading for a good corner; that price tag will certainly require a few draft picks in addition to a nice chunk of change, which isn’t the Patriots’ style.
Instead, New England will have to rely on in-house replacements or try to develop a new star corner via the draft. In recent years, Bill Belichick hasn’t had a great track record on either of those fronts.
Free agency is still less than 24 hours old, but at the moment, here are the four main corners on their roster: Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard and Malcolm Butler.
None of those names really strike fear into opposing offenses. Sure, one of those guys was the hero of Super Bowl XLIX. But Butler was also an undrafted rookie who played sparingly during the regular season, and he was only on the field in Arizona because Arrington couldn’t figure out how to cover Seattle’s Chris Matthews. Arrington was solid as New England’s slot corner during the regular season, but struggled when the spotlight was shining. Ryan and Dennard both have their own varying degrees of upside, with Ryan the most likely to pan out, but at the moment, that remains just upside.
Those four are solid depth players behind a tandem like Revis and Browner, but are nowhere near even half of what that duo provided New England in 2014. Forget that man defense the Patriots had success with last season, with Revis shutting down premier receivers week after week, and get ready for a lot more zone. We may also see a lot more blitzing to up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks and alleviate some of the pressure on whatever secondary they trot out there.
Even though Revis is gone, those premier wide outs are still on the schedule. Divisional foes Sammy Watkins, Mike Wallace and Brandon Marshall will face the Patriots twice, and tussles with Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr. are also on the docket. It would have been fun to watch Revis go to work against that group, but now it’s looking more likely that those will be frustrating Sundays, though they’ll still likely result in W’s for the Patriots.
The draft isn’t a bad way to develop a corner, but the last time the Patriots had a good corner who they drafted was Devin McCourty, and he’s now a highly-paid safety. While McCourty was a success his rookie season, he fell apart his sophomore year, prompting the position change. And for every McCourty that Belichick has drafted, there are a handful of Darius Butlers, Ras-I Dowlings and Terrence Wheatleys.
When it comes to replacing Darrelle Revis, there is just no way to actually replace Darrelle Revis. This now becomes a long process for the Patriots, one that New England fans lived through from 2008-2012, when the team acquired Aqib Talib on November 1. That finally gave them a true No. 1 corner to lock down the opposition’s biggest threat, and when Talib left via free agency in 2014, New England had a backup plan in Revis.
That’s a luxury they don’t have this time around. Instead it’s just an empty void that will have to be patched up by the defending champs, one that may not be filled for years to come.