Saturday, February 14, 2015

Patriots in uncharted territory with Revis negotiations

It's the silly season once again.

How long before we start hearing Patriots' fans pining for the Larry Fitzgerald's and Calvin Johnson's of the football world? It really doesn't matter, though, as the Patriots could stand pat on their team from 2014 and still dominate the AFC East.

Of course, that isn't going to happen because attrition and salary cap dollars are what makes the NFL turn, and if you have too much of either, a team starts to lose its bargaining leverage.  For the New England Patriots, neither have been much of an issue in the Bill Belichick era - nor, really, since Bob Kraft purchased the franchise 21 years ago.
Is the Lombardi enough bling to bring Revis back to New England?

But last offseason, the Patriots broke character when they signed cornerback Darrelle Revis to a protracted free agent contract that had an incredibly affordable cap figure of just $7 Million in 2014, but due to a prorated signing bonus and an exaggerated $20 Million "Placeholder" team option on the shutdown corner in 2015, his $25 Million cap figure would chew up nearly 20% of the Patriots salary cap for next season.

Even though this placeholder is a team option for New England, Revis is the one holding the trump cards and leaving Belichick and Kraft with very little leverage in negotiating a contract extention to releive Revis' stranglehold on the salary cap.  One card that Revis holds is the $5 Million remaining on the prorated bonus which becomes dead money against the cap should New England choose not to exercise their option to retain his services.

His base salary and prorated bonus are manageable - and even a bargain -  at $13.5 Million, and if that's all the Patriots were dealing with here, they probably would have already picked up the option right after winning the Super Bowl - but there's a little matter of a hefty $12.5 Million roster bonus that the team will owe Revis if he he is not released by March 10th, the beginning of the National Football League business year.

This is the bitch-kitty.  New England's troubles come via this guaranteed roster bonus - and their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to negotiate a contract extension which will pay Revis everything that he is expecting for his services in 2015 - a cool $25 Million - while nullifying the roster bonus and re-engaging it in a different form to be able to spread it across a four or five year deal.

If they can do that, the Patriots can pay Revis as the best cornerback in football next season, which he is, while trimming $7 or $8 million off of the cap hit.  The remaining years on the contract could contain roster bonuses and team options that would measure in the range of $14-$16 million a season and conceivably keep Revis in Foxborough until his skills start to decline as he reaches his mid-30's.

But what if the two sides can't come to an agreement?

No matter what direction the Patriots are forced to go, Revis is going to get paid, but the options are simple.  First, the Patriots could hold on to Revis at his current cap hit and try to negotiate an extension after the fact - and while that won't change the cap hit for 2015, it could make sense for 2016 and beyond where the cap hit would be incrementally easier for the Patriots to absorb.

The second option is to cut him from the roster and try to negotiate with Revis while other teams are throwing bags of money at him, particularly the Jets, who have upwards of $50 Million in cap space and have already expressed interest in retaining Revis' services.  Buffalo and Revis' former coach with the Jets, Rex Ryan, have expressed interest as well, but have less than half the cap space that the Jets possess.

The second scenario may be preferable should Revis opt not to negotiate an extension in New England, the reason being that there are other quality corners on the free market that would come at a much discounted rate - though none of them are in Revis' class.
If not, Maxwell (41) may be a decent replacement

That list is headlined by Seahawks' corner Byron Maxwell, who at 6' 1" and 207 pounds is a larger corner with speed to burn - in fact, it was Maxwell that unseated current Patriots' corner Brandon Browner in the middle of the 2013 season, and also Maxwell that made the Seahawks comfortable enough to let Browner hit the free agent market last offseason.

The Seahawks are in kind of a bind themselves, what with negotiations ongoing to retain the rights to quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch, and they just don't have the cap space to meet Maxwell's salary demands thus far - but while Maxwell's demands are forcing the Seahawks' hands, his numbers approach nowhere near what Revis' current contract entails, thus making him an enticing option for the Patriots.

After Maxwell are names like San Diego's Brandon Flowers, Green Bay's Tramon Williams, Arizona's Antonio Cromartie and Cleveland's Buster Skrine.  The young Maxwell would be the best bet to be reunited with Browner, who had a fantastic season in New England, while Flowers and Williams have reached their peak years and may not be worth a long-term look, Cromartie wants to return to New York and Skrine is a young slot corner who may or may not make an impression on the outside.

If the free agent market doesn't materialize for New England, the draft is another option, though any rookie is going to be a significant drop off from the level Revis plays at.  Some of the top names to watch for in the draft is that's the way this materializes are Michigan State's Trae Waynes, LSU's big cover corner Jalen Collins and Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson.

It goes without saying that losing Revis would weaken the Patriots' secondary, but it is also true that the players that they already have under contract have proven to some extent that they can be competitive, and perhaps be called upon to plug the gap left by Revis' departure.

Browner is pretty much a guarantee on one side, leaving third-year man Logan Ryan, fourth-year guy Alfonzo Dennard and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler to compete on the other, while aging Kyle Arrington again vies for the slot corner job.

Despite their successes at various points, this list is not over-inspiring, nor is the thought of paying Darrelle Revis a king's ransom - but the Patriots put themselves in this spot by doing what they NEVER do, or have never done in the Kraft era, which is mortgaging their future to bring in one player.

This anomaly has given just about all of the leverage in the scenario to Revis, so somewhere along the line there's going to have to be a leap of faith by either the Patriots or the shutdown Corner - either the Patriots pick up his option and start cutting players or going through sticky negotiations to lower some salaries, or Revis is going to have to give up some major money to stay in Foxborough.

So the question comes down to whether Revis is satisfied with winning one ring and wants to chase the money in free agency, or if winning that ring makes him hungry for more - because if New England picks up the option on Revis for 2015, they risk venturing further outside of their comfort zone to do so, and the abysmal cycle to mediocrity begins with the Patriots not being able to re-sign their other key free agents.

So like it or not, the Patriots are in the unenviable position of being held hostage by one player - granted, one of the best players in the National Football league, but one player nonetheless - which is unfamiliar territory for both Belichick and Kraft, and certainly not following their recipe to long-term success.

But the bottom line is, they did it to themselves.  It was worth every penny of the first year of Revis' contract, but year two looks to be a check the Patriots can't afford to cash.

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