When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets finally consummated a trade and submitted it to the league office yesterday afternoon, it was the conclusion to a saga that stretched back five months -- or even four years, if you take the Jets' perspective. It was not easy getting to this point, and fans have criticized the Bucs relentlessly over the past weeks. Ultimately, though, the Bucs managed to snag a Hall of Fame caliber player for a price that seems more than fair. But how did they get there?
The Jets decide they can let Revis walk
The saga for the New York Jets started way back in 2010, when Darrelle Revis decided to hold out for a new contract worth, effectively, $46 million over four years. Revis was coming off the best season a cornerback had had in recent memory and felt he was vastly underpaid on his rookie contract. And rightly so. The ordeal played out on HBO's Hard Knocks and made for great entertainment, but apparently set bad blood with Jets owner Woody Johnson.
When the Jets collapsed this season and the extent of their problems became known, Johnson fired his general manager, hired John Idzik to replace him after a lengthy search and apparently signed off on a total rebuilding process. And that was certainly necessary: the Jets had very little talent on their roster due to years of poor drafts, and the talent they did have was vastly overpaid leading to a mess of a cap situation. There was no way the Jets were going to competitive this season.
Meanwhile, Revis was looking for a big, new contract with just one year left on his deal. The Jets couldn't use the franchise tag on him after the 2013 season, due to a clause in his contract. This meant extending him or losing the best cornerback in the NFL to another team in free agency -- perhaps even to the division rival New England Patriots, a nightmare scenario. It appears Johnson took an extension off the table. Whether that was because of a decision that no non-quarterback was worth $16 million per season (a defensible position), as reported by Rich Cimini, or because Johnson had other issues with Revis remains unknown. The fact of the matter remains that the decision to divorce Revis was made by Johnson even before Idzik was hired, according to the New York Daily News.
Finding a trade partner
Finding a team willing to trade for the best cornerback in football was a lot easier said than done. Which team would be willing to give up the picks required to satisfy the Jets, while also having the willingness and cap room to take on Revis' outrageous contract demands? Every NFL team would want Revis -- but only a few could afford him, and even fewer would be willing to take the price.
As it turns out, only one team ever showed serious, high-level interest: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Pro Football Talk notes that no other team got involved in the negotiations. Did they not think that Revis was worth the money, were they scared off by the Jets' asking price, or were they willing to pay something -- but not as much as the Bucs were willing to pay? For now, we don't know.
The Jets soon set their sights on a Herschel Walker level deal, as Pewter Report reports they yearned to get two first-round draft picks.
Exploring the options
The Buccaneers were interested in Darrelle Revis based on his on-field work. He could transform their defense, and he would help Greg Schiano's blitzing defense reach its full potential."We're really looking forward to him becoming a key member of our defense, a key leader of our defense," Bucs general manager Mark Dominik told the Tampa Bay Times. "We're thrilled. It's rare you have a chance to add a player of this caliber to your football team. It just doesn't happen very often. That's what motivated us."
But before going any further in trade negotiations they had to know whether they felt comfortable with him off the field and whether his knee would work out. Revis had a history of holdouts, after all, and had managed to create a little drama in several offseasons despite a supposed squeaky clean presence off the field. Was he a "Buccaneer Man", as the Bucs are fond of saying?
Dave Wannstedt, the Buccaneers special teams coordinator, played a big role there according to JoeBucsFan. Wannstedt "raved" about Revis the person, and his on the field play. Wannstedt coached Revis in college at the University of Pittsburgh, and he gave the Bucs the comfort level to go after the cornerback aggressively.
It didn't hurt that when Revis signed his contract yesterday, Mark Dominik was convinced they had found the right player. "You could see how excited he was. The look in his eyes was, 'Coach, I will not let you down,' '' Dominik told Sports Illustrated's Peter King
Two first-round picks
With the Buccaneers comfortable with Darrelle Revis, they wanted to find the right price for a Hall of Fame player. The Jets, meanwhile, wouldn't want to let Revis walk for peanuts. Maybe they couldn't hang on to Revis in the long term, but there was always a chance that Woody Johnson would change his mind. Maybe they would rather have him play one season and then letting him walk, rather than trading him for subpar compensation.The Jets set their sights on two first-round picks, per Pewter Report.
That was much too rich for the Buccaneers, who initially didn't even want to part with their 2013 first-round pick, and it appears that the option of two first-rounders disappeared quickly. Still, with no other team in the running the Bucs were essentially bidding against themselves, with the Jets' only ploy being to walk away if they didn't get the price. That was a realistic threat, of course.
The Bucs budged on their 2013 first-rounder, but they balked when the Jets demanded three picks in total: the first-rounder, a third-rounder and a fifth-rounder. That was too much money, and the Buccaneers made that clear to the Bucs. In fact, they made it so clear that they were afraid the trade talks would fall apart all last week, according to Pewter Report.
The Bucs then set a deadline: if the deal wasn't done by Monday, they were prepared to walk away, according to Pewter Report. We'll never know whether that threat was real, but it apparently was realistic enough for the Jets to give in. The Bucs got what they wanted, giving up only two picks, while the Jets got that coveted 13th overall pick in 2013.
$16 million per year
All along, Revis and his agents had eyed that elusive $16 million per year mark. The top of the market for non-quarterbacks, with only Mario Williams and Calvin Johnson receiving anything close to that absurd amount of money. Their demands must have been a big part of the reason for the New York Jets to try to trade him. John Idzik told reporters on a conference call yesterday that there was a "substantial difference" between the contract value the Jets and Bucs had assigned the cornerback.
Mark Dominik wasn't willing to give Revis $16 million per year on a platter, though. Not with the cornerback coming off an ACL injury and still rehabbing his knee. He wanted substantial insurance in case Revis' knee injury turned out to affect him more than expected. And Dominik got it. In exchange for that $16 million per year tage, Revis signed a deal with no guarantees. Essentially, the Buccaneers now have yearly $16 million options on the best cornerback in football.
Dominik is willing to walk away from Revis after just one year if his knee injury turns out to be serious enough or Revis' skills evaporate, according to Peter King. That's the price Revis and the Jets paid for money: they gave up job security, even though that doesn't really exist in the NFL. The resulting contract is unique in the NFL, without precedent. Even some undrafted free agents get a guarantee in their contracts. Sure, Revis has $16 million almost certainly guaranteed in his first year -- but that's where that ends.
With the contract essentially done, only one hurdle remained: the Buccaneers had to evaluate Darrelle Revis' knee injury themselves. Revis had torn his ACL during the third week of the 2012 regular season and had attacked his rehab aggressively. By all accounts, he was ahead of schedule. But there was still risk, and they still had to examine Revis.
With every detail of the trade done, the Bucs flew Revis to Tampa on Sunday afternoon. Greg Schiano picked him up from the airport and got him to the medical staff, who gave him a thirty minute evaluation. Meeting with Revis, the Bucs felt comfortable going ahead with the substantial commitment they were about to make to Revis. They were making him one of the three richest non-quarterbacks in the NFL, and giving up key building blocks for their team.
Mark Dominik and Greg Schiano went into a private meeting to discuss whether to go ahead with the thread. In the end, they couldn't find a reason not to do it, Dominik told Peter King.
"We decided there was not enough risk to not do it. At the end of the day, you trust your doctors to tell you as much as they can, but it's a decision really that came down to me and Greg. We had to be comfortable with the risk, and I can tell you we are.''
They had haggled down the price to two draft picks. They had built in significant protections into Revis' unique and unprecedented contract. The knee had checked out. There was no reason left for the trade not to be consummated.
One final demand
The Buccaneers demanded one other thing from Revis: he would have to rehab his knee injury in Tampa and be a full participant in offseason workouts, according to Peter King. They wanted him to be a full part of the program, a "Buccaneer man", if such a thing exists.
Revis responded in the right way.
"I'm all in. I'm a Buccaneer."