According to the New York Daily News, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to give Darrelle Revis a contract worth $12 to $13 million per year if he's traded, significantly less than the earlier reported $14 to $16 million per year Revis was seeking. The latter amount was unlikely to begin with, given the fact that the only non-quarterbacks to approach that kind of money are Calvin Johnson and Mario Williams. In a market quickly looking slightly deflated, $12 to $13 million is much more doable. Yes, the implication there is that Revis would accept that contract.
So what would this kind of contract look like and how would that impact the Buccaneers' salary cap space this year and in future years?
A lot of teams like to push cap hits into the future, as they're in perpetual salary cap hell. This is not a particularly productive strategy, because at some point those cap hits have to hit the cap. You cannot push them forward indefinitely, and you end up with the Panthers' salary cap mess with that strategy. Thankfully the Tampa Bay Buccaneers realize this and have structured their contracts in such a way that cash spending and cap space generally match, only rarely using big signing bonuses to push cap space into the future.
The Bucs did make an exception for Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks, however, signing them initially to contracts that fit their normal strategy but restructuring them this season to push more cap hits forward and create more space this season. Presumably they did this because they felt secure that Jackson and Nicks would be valuable additions for many years to come.
All of this brings us to Revis' likely contract: it will be slightly frontloaded, but cash and cap space are likely to match fairly evenly. The Bucs have shown a propensity for five-year contracts, which is what they've handed out to Quincy Black, Eric Wright, Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson and Dashon Goldson recently. With that in mind, here's what a contract may look like.
Five years, $62.5 million total. $39 million in guarantees (first three years salary). $12.5 million in 2013, 2014 and 2015. $11.25 million in 2016 and 2017. Annual workout bonuses of $500,000.
The Buccaneers love workout bonuses and tend to put them in every contract. This contract is fairly affordable, it allows the Bucs to cut Revis with no cap consequences after 2015 if necessary, and keeps Revis under contract through his age 32 season. The Bucs can explore another contract at that point, which should be significantly cheaper.
The Bucs might also entertain one more clause: the Jets used a clause to prevent Revis from holding out by adding three years at $3 million salaries at the end of his contract. Those years would void automatically if Revis never held out, but if he did hold out at some point he would be under contract for three more years at a very low salary. This kind of construction hardly speaks to having faith in a player, though, and it may not even be necessary. The new CBA punishes holdouts with a $30,000 fine per day. That's a lot of money -- though perhaps not enough to prevent a holdout altogether.
More importantly, though, rewarding Revis with a good contract -- one making him one of the highest paid defenders in the NFL -- should prevent holdouts regardless.
What are the consequences for the Buccaneers' salary cap?
Those consequences are obviously hefty, but not to such an extent that the Bucs will have to start cutting players on a large scale to keep Revis in the fold. The Buccaneers currently have around $28.5 million in salary cap space both according to Over The Cap and my own accounting. Revis in his first year would take up $13 million of that cap space, leaving a still sizable $15.5 million in cap space. That amount would still rank eighth in the NFL and shouldn't be problematic.
Going forward, the Buccaneers will need to make some hefty choices, however. Their current commitment to 2014 in cap space comes in at $95 million for 28 players, according to my numbers, while Over The Cap has them at $100 million. Add Revis' salary and those figures jump up significantly, with just 12 teams having less cap space than them per Over The Cap. Add in the fact that the Bucs will want to extend Mike Williams this season and possibly Josh Freeman and Gerald McCoy next season and you can see where the salary cap squeeze may start.
This squeeze isn't all that difficult to solve, however. First of all, if the Buccaneers do trade for Revis, Eric Wright is almost certain to be cut, which would save the team nearly $8 million per season. Michael Koenen, as good as he has been, will have no guarantees left on his contract starting this season and would present the Bucs with a possible save of $2 million per year, given the fact that they will need to find a different punter. The same would be true for Connor Barth. The Bucs could save an easy $4 million there, even though it may not be popular.
Other players may be in line to take a pay cut. Jeremy Zuttah, Donald Penn and Davin Joseph will both see their guaranteed salaries run out, making them possible annual cap casualties. Zuttah may be especially vulnerable, with Ted Larsen proving to be a decent starter at center. But Donald Penn is getting older, too, turning 30 this year.
None of these choices will be popular or easy, but the fact that the Bucs have managed to structure their contracts smartly means they can at least manage the cap with few complications going forward.
How does this contract compare to those around the league?
This contract would make Darrelle Revis the highest-paid cornerback by any measure instantly. Revis is currently setting the record at that position, too, earning an average of $11.5 million per year. The Bucs would increase that to $12.5 million per year with this contract. That's $2 million per year more than second-best Champ Bailey, and $2.5 million per year more than Brandon Carr, Cortland Finnegan, Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph and Brandon Flowers. None of the free agent cornerbacks this season come even remotely close to that kind of money.
Still, he would not be the highest paid defender in the NFL. Currently Mario Williams, Julius Peppers, Ndamukong Suh, DeMarcus Ware and Charles Johnson are all on contracts worth more than that annually, and those contracts aren't fluff: they're getting paid like it, too. Williams tops the list at a ridiculous $16 million per year, while Peppers is making $14 million per year and Charles Johnson (hi there Panthers) comes in at some $12.7 million per year. Suh is making $12.7 million per year on a rookie contract and has a ridiculous $21.4 million cap hit coming next season because the Lions have pushed his money forward a couple of times. Finally, Ware is making $13 million next year.
In other words: Revis would be the best paid cornerback by a wide, wide margin but would not be the highest-paid defender -- although he'd come close, with only a handful of players earning more than him, all of them defensive linemen. Yes, I think that is fair money for Revis and the impact he can have on the field.
For those of you worrying that Revis may not accept a contract proposal once the trade is through: don't. The Buccaneers can make the trade terms conditional on Revis accepting a long-term contract, or they can simply refuse to trade for Revis if they don't have a contract in place. Revis won't be a one-year rental if this trade goes through. And if the New York Daily news can be believed, that contract will run at $12 to $13 million per year.
This kind of contract would be a heavy burden for the Buccaneers, but they have the cap space to do it.