The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should trade Darrelle Revis just one year after giving up a first-round pick, a third (or fourth)-round pick and a massive cornerback to get him. They should do this, because the benefits of trading him outweigh the benefits of keeping him. They should do this, accepting as little as a third-round pick in exchange.
Let me make the case.
Revis' value to the Buccaneers
Before you all call me an idiot (I saw plenty of that on Twitter), hear me out.
For Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier, Darrelle Revis is not a premium player. Cornerbacks are not lacking in importance in their defense, but they are less important than a weakside linebacker, safeties, and front four pass rushers. It's those pass rushers the Buccaneers lack right now, and that's the one position Lovie Smith has consistently said he wants to address. They want a dominant pass rusher. They need a dominant pass rusher. That's the key to their whole defensive philosophy.
Getting that dominant pass rusher is a lot easier said than done. They can target Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr in the draft, but neither is truly dominant as a pass rusher, although both are very good. The alternative is going after one of the free agent pass-rushers, assuming one hits free agency. Brian Orakpo, Greg Hardy and Michael Johnson are set to hit free agency now, and a few older pass-rush specialists like Jared Allen might be short-term options.
Darrelle Revis certainly has value for the Buccaneers and Lovie Smith, and the coaches have made it clear they'd love to have him. Keeping him would not be a punishment, and would not be a waste of his talents. But replacing him with a lesser version would not diminish Smith's defense much, either.
If you asked Lovie Smith whether he'd rather have Greg Hardy or Darrelle Revis, he'd take Hardy all day, every day. That's what this decision would come down to: trading Revis would free up cap space to go after a premium pass rusher, if that's what they want to do.
Cap space needed
In addition to defensive end, the Bucs also want to address their offensive line, they want to add depth at numerous positions, they need to add more weapons for Mike Glennon, they probably need to add a new tight end next to Tim Wright, they have to get a strongside linebacker (or middle linebacker, moving Mason Foster) and they could do with an upgrade at nose tackle as well, or at least some depth.
That's going to take a lot of cap space and/or draft picks. The Bucs have a decent amount of cap space: the latest estimate would likely give them around $24 million, although ESPN's latest estimate comes to $18 million, which is slightly below average. That's a sizable amount of space, and you can do a lot with that space. They can also free up up to $20 million more with some judicious pay or roster cuts for Davin Joseph, Donald Penn and Michael Koenen, among others.
Is that enough, though? Every roster cut will create a new hole on the roster to be filled. They must find at least one starting guard this offseason, and preferably two, plus a few backups because the team has no depth at the position. That costs money, or takes draft picks. The Bucs only have five draft picks to address depth, and lack their third-rounder in one of the deepest drafts in years.
If they want to address all of those holes, they will need more cap space than they have, and more draft picks than they have. Trading Revis would accomplish both of those things.
Trading Revis would also create some hidden benefits. Aside from the obvious cap space freed up and whatever draft picks they can get for Revis, they'd also re-gain their third-round pick, assuming Revis is traded before March 13. Instead, they'd send their fourth-round pick to the New York Jets. That's not insignificant in this draft, which has seen a record number of juniors enter and promises to be one of the best drafts in years.
Another positive would be the fact that they wouldn't need to have this conversation every year, given Revis' non-guaranteed contract. Revis will be trade bait under Lovie Smith every year, but his value will diminish every season, due to his age. The Bucs will not continue to pay Revis $16 million per year, because he's simply not worth it unless they design their entire defense around him -- which Smith and Frazier won't do.
In addition, a trade would help balance the team's long-term cap situation and roster-building. The Bucs won't want to over-invest in cornerbacks under Lovie Smith, and they'll have more opportunities to focus their spending in places where it does matter: along the defensive line and on offense.
Trading Revis would create a new problem, though: a hole at cornerback they'd have to fill in free agency, since rookie cornerbacks tend to struggle. Johnthan Banks is a solid starting cornerback, especially in Frazier/Smith's Cover 3 and Tampa 2-dominated schemes, but they'd have to find someone else to start opposite him.
Thankfully, a bunch of quality free agents are set to hit the market, including Brent Grimes, Vontae Davis, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris and Alterraun Verner. Some of those will be re-signed before free agency hits, but the Bucs should be able to find a solid cornerback at a more reasonable price tag than Revis' anyway.
At what price?
So at what price would you accept a Darrelle Revis trade? Personally, I would go as low as a third-round pick. Not because Revis is worth nothing more than a third-round pick, but because the benefits to the Bucs are far greater than just the pick they receive in trade. The added cap space and the upgraded fourth-round pick will allow them to build their roster more to their liking.
That $16 million salary is also a reason why the Buccaneers will have issues getting more than a mid-round pick for Revis. The veteran cornerback is very, very good -- but no other cornerback earns anything close to that, and no cornerback would be worth it unless their defense was designed around them. That's why the Bucs appeared to be the only realistic suitors for Revis last year.
If the Bucs trade Revis, they will not get close to the first- and third-/fourth-round picks they gave up to get him. And that's okay: those picks are gone. It's a sunk cost that should not factor into what you want to do going forward. And that's what this trade would be about: fixing the roster for the new coaches.
Overall, I think the benefits of trading Revis are big enough that having the conversation at least makes sense. I won't be disappointed in the least if Revis stays on the roster, as he's certainly an impact player in any defense. But I would have no problem with a trade, either.