Thursday, March 13, 2014


Darrelle Revis is taking his talents to New England.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

On Tuesday, the fate of the New England Patriots seemed in dire straights as Aqib Talib, their only Pro Bowl-caliber defensive back was stolen away from them by the Denver Broncos. The blow was two-fold for the Patriots. First, they lost a key defensive player at a high-leverage position. Second, they lost him to a principal AFC rival. The best Patriots fans could do was scoff at the excessively long and over-guaranteed contract that Denver offered in order to acquire him.

Then, Revis.

The Patriots surprised many (including yours truly) by inking all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis to a one-year, $12 million deal on Wednesday evening. Despite tearing his ACL in 2011, Revis returned last season and, for much of the season, played at his usual form. When he was at his beset, at worst he was the third-best cornerback in football (only Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson were in the same class). And in the shockers to top all shockers, Revis, who has often been vocal about caring about money just as much as football (including holding out of the 2010 training camp and pre-season until he was given the contract extension he believed he deserved) agreed to just a one-year deal. On top of that, the "no-franchise" clause that many expected to be in the contract (a clause that would preclude the Patriots from using their "franchise player" tag on Revis in order to extend his contract for another season with or without his agreement) never materialized.

In short, it was a stroke of brilliance from the Patriots.

And the key distinction here is that the Patriots *never* make moves like this. Over the last dozen years, the Patriots have made very few big free-agent splashes, the only notable one being Rodney Harrison. And that was in 2003. And Rodney Harrison was about to enter his 10th season in the league. And as good as Harrison was, he never made a Pro Bowl with the Patriots. (You could argue that spending $35 million on Adalius Thomas also qualifies, as he was coming off a Pro Bowl season and his best year as a pro, but Thomas never had the household-name cachet like Revis). The other big "splash" moves the Patriots have made were via trade, buying low on elite talents that had worn out their welcome with their previous teams. In 2004, they traded a second-round pick for Corey Dillon, who ran for 1600 yards the following season. In 2007, they traded a fourth-round pick for Randy Moss, who followed that up by setting an NFL record for receiving touchdowns as a part of what was then the most explosive offense in NFL history.

This is truly the first time the Patriots have ever gone out and signed a blue-chip player, arguably still in his prime. That, plus the short-term agreement, is what makes this so exciting as a Patriots fan. As Tom Brady gets older, there will be fewer and fewer opportunities to compete for a Super Bowl. But I've always been wary of teams that go "All-In" to compete one last time before it's too late. They often end up saddled with undesirable contracts two or three years later and find themselves hamstrung by the cap. This signing is the best of both worlds. It gives the Patriots an all-pro cornerback to fix so many of the problems they had in the secondary last year. And with just a one-year deal with an option to use the franchise tag for a second year, there's no long-term risk.

Suddenly, the Patriots have a defense with Revis, Vince Wilfork (returning from injury), Jerod Mayo (returning from injury), Chandler Jones (11.5 sacks last season), Devin McCourty (blossoming into a legitimately good safety after fizzling a bit at cornerback), Brandon Spikes (one of the better interior linebackers against the run in the league), Dont'a Hightower (a 2012 first-round pick), along with two promising rookies from last season in Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan. After several years of being an air-it-out offensive team with one of the worst defenses in football, the Patriots are slowly morphing into a power running offense, and their defense should be among the best in football next season.

The move doesn't push the Patriots past Denver as the favorites of the AFC. New England still has a number of question marks, particularly on the offensive line (at center and right guard), at receiver, and at defensive tackle (once you get past Wilfork there isn't much depth to speak of). But Revis was the best player on the market, a player the Patriots have never gotten before, and they got a player better than the one they lost in Talib. They aren't the favorites, but they're in the mix. And when they're in the mix, they have a chance. Never Count Out Touchdown Tom, and I guess now, don't get stranded on Revis Island. 

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