Cutting Corners: Should Eagles Swoop in and make a play for Revis?


Dec 29, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Buccaneers 42-17. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Teams around the NFL got one last jolt in the arm Monday evening when reports surfaced that the Bucs were doing their best to shed the enormous price tag of cornerback Darrelle Revis.

The initial report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter would mean that Tampa Bay, a year after trading away a first and conditional 3rd round pick for Revis’ services, would be cutting their losses one season into the six-year deal the two sides initially agreed upon. Revis is due a $1.5 million roster bonus if he remains on the roster by Tuesday’s 4:00PM start of free agency. In addition to saving the aforementioned cash, the Bucs would rid themselves of the potential $16 million cap hit that Revis would bring if he remained on the roster. With Lovie Smith taking over for the departed Greg Schiano and the Bucs coming off a 4-12 season, they apparently do not see the former All-Pro defensive back as part of their future.

Should Revis hit the free agent market, he will immediately vault himself toward the top of the list of the NFL’s ‘guns for hire’. In an era where every NFL team is trying to replicate the suffocating secondary that the Seahawks just rode toward their first Super Bowl championship, a defensive back of Revis’ pedigree and talents should fetch big-time money.

Revis turned in a solid 2013 campaign after recovering from ACL surgery. He started all 16 games for the Buccaneers and passed the eye test as far as being a viable top corner despite the career-altering injury. While he was not the ‘Revis Island’ presence that had him as the unquestioned top corner in the NFL, the former Jet will only be 29 by the start of the 2014 season and, judging off last year’s showing, has plenty of miles left on the tires. Revis had 43 tackles in 2013 to go along with two interceptions, two forced fumbles, 11 passes deflected, and a sack. Eagles fans should be particularly familiar with Revis’ short tenure with the Bucs. In the team’s meeting with Tampa Bay in week 7, Revis had an impressive forced fumble and return for a touchdown. He was ruled down by contact after review, negating the score, but Revis’ impressive athleticism was on full display.

While the Eagles have said all along that they plan on taking a more economical route in free agency in 2014, the injection of Revis into an already-strong cornerback class makes for a very intriguing variable. General Manager Howie Roseman has adamantly stated the team will not pay top dollar for a player who is in the second or third tier of his position. Depending on who one asks, Revis is a top-tier cornerback who may fall into the lap of a very fortunate club.

Although the Eagles have a pair of starting-caliber cornerbacks in Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, Revis has the potential to overhaul a secondary. When used correctly and at full-bore, Revis has the ability to shut down any team’s top receiver and make plays along the way. The Eagles were rumored to have been interested in Revis when the Jets were shopping him last offseason. One has to imagine that, after seeing him play a full season after a significant injury, that level of intrigue could only go up.

The real question for the Eagles is whether or not they A.) want to have a free agent class that is widely defined by one player and B.) if they want that player to be Revis. All indications, prior to the news about Revis, was that the Eagles were going to take a somewhat conservative approach to free agency and wait out the market to allow themselves to sign more team-friendly deal. While Revis has little chance to collect the $16 million he would have made with the Bucs in 2014, he will most certainly be one of the most expensive free agent additions this offseason. While the Eagles have more than enough cap room to add Revis and others, the marquee cornerback would probably force the front office to alter their plan of attack.

Sep 19, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Since owner Jeffrey Lurie absolved Howie Roseman of any involvement in the miserable 2010 and 2011 drafts, the current Eagles GM has skated along with very little criticism up to this point. Most of the moves he has made, while being generally successful, have been of the low risk variety. Making a play at a talent like Revis is the type of acquisition that can make or break the public opinion of a general manager. No matter how much they say they aren’t scared off by the colossal bust that was Nnamdi Asomugha, one has to imagine they are entering this free agency period with the fallout from that disaster looming in the back of their heads.

For some perspective on the type of money that the top cornerbacks should receive on the open market, Miami’s Brent Grimes just received an extension to stay with the Dolphins for 4-year/$32 million. There are three players: Aqib Talib (NE), Alterraun Verner (TEN), and Vontae Davis (IND) who probably make up the top-tier of free agent cornerbacks. Judging by some of the big money contracts that have already been handed out paired with the value being placed on cornerbacks, one would have to imagine the market for a player like Revis might be somewhere in the $10-12 million a year department. This would make up just about half of the Eagles cap space available for 2014 and have much more of an impact on future signings than some of the mid-tier targets the Eagles have been linked to. Should the Eagles commit to considering Revis as an addition to their team, acquiring him would serve as a major crossroads for the Chip Kelly/Howie Roseman regime.

Depending on how the rest of the offseason would go, the Eagles signing Revis would probably increase expectations in a big way. An acquisition of a player as high-profile as Revis would shift the narrative surrounding Philadelphia from a team going through the natural progression towards contention to a team seeing itself as right on the brink of contention. Whether or not one sees the Eagles as that type of roster from a talent standpoint, any time a team adds a player who was once considered the class of his position will create shockwaves.

On one hand, the Eagles would have to cater their defense toward Revis’ strengths. One of the apparent points of contention between Revis and the Bucs was whether he could play in new head coach Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 scheme. When a team hands out the type of money that many expect Revis to receive on the open market, one would have to think they would take every measure to make sure they get the greatest return on their investment. Between his time with the Jets and Buccaneers, Revis was at his best when he could play man-t0-man press coverage, a style that took advantage of his physicality and masked his lack of world-class speed. There are those who still wonder whether the Eagles misuse of Nnamdi Asomugha contributed to his miserable performance in two seasons in Philadelphia. While all indications of Billy Davis’ preferred scheme with the Eagles defense showed a preference toward man-t0-man defense from the secondary, one would have to be sure that Revis would be used in a capacity that highlighted his skills.

Oct 13, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) runs out of the tunnel before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The fact still remains that Revis has suffered a significant injury in his short career. The Eagles signed Bradley Fletcher, a player with a checkered past on the injury forefront, but were not committing upwards of $10 million a season for him. Even though the Eagles have one of the best medical staffs in the business, any organization has to be careful shelling out that sort of money without a certain level of assuredness. Tampa Bay was able to include enough offsetting language in their initial contract with Revis where they could get out from under it without suffering any sort of cap hit. Now, with a healthy season in his belt, Revis is in a much more powerful position in terms of inking a deal that includes more guaranteed money. There will be a team that ends up taking the risk of signing Revis to a deal worthy of a top-flight free agent. Whether or not the Eagles have a legitimate chance of being that team has a lot to do with if they are willing to pay him like the player he once was.

When it comes down to it, Revis is the type of player the Eagles should take a gamble on. The best teams in the NFL are those that set forth a plan of attack and do so while leaving themselves the flexibility to make a splash that could seriously improve their team. One would have to think that, a year into the Chip Kelly experiment in Philadelphia, the Eagles are ahead of schedule. Because of that, taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity to accelerate their timeline is something the front office should seriously consider.

When it comes to defensive player in the NFL, two types of players often garner the biggest price tags: pass-rushers and cornerbacks. Before any team could make a bid on a free agent pass-rusher, the top targets were retained by their previous teams. Many speculated that the Eagles would have been major players for Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds. If they were willing to compete with the rest of the market for a pass-rusher, a position where the free agent well has run relatively dry, there’s no reason they should not be willing to get in the mix for a potential franchise cornerback.

For all of the praise the Eagles defense got during the second half of the 2013 season, it was impossible not to recognize the lack of top-end talent on that side of the ball. For how easy the offense made moving the ball and scoring at will look, the defense shaved years off Eagles fans lives keeping opponents off the board. Despite being able to keep the opposition at bay enough to help the team clinch a playoff berth, one can’t ignore the fact that it was the defense that came up small in the Eagles’ season-ending loss to the Saints. The offense was far from unstoppable, but the defense was gashed by a relatively pedestrian Saints attack that was rendered incompetent by the Seahawks the following week. Scheme and philosophy on defense only goes so far in the NFL. Seattle showed that, at the end of the day, a team should try to field as much playmaking talent on defense as possible to combat the wide-open offenses in the league.

Even as the collective Eagles fanbase clamors for Jairus Byrd to fill the void at the safety position, Revis is a superior talent to the Bills safety. Considering the type of player the Eagles are looking for, Revis might be the lone elite defensive free agent on the market that could warrant an appropriate deal. Adding a player like Revis would infuse a very solid unit with the type of talent that championship teams have on that side of the ball. The Pennsylvania native would immediately be the best player on defense and one would have to think Billy Davis would gear his schemes toward highlighting Revis’ strengths.

Taking all factors into consideration, although the organization has given no indication toward their motives, I think the Eagles should seriously consider inking Revis to a major deal. The NFL is by no means a science and the Philadelphia front office should not pigeon-hole themselves into a grand plan that requires things to go right every step of the way. Howie Roseman & Co. have done an excellent job positioning themselves to make a play at a franchise-altering player. Failing to recognize their advantageous position would be a sign that the front office is letting the failures of the 2011 free agency class dictate their future business. If there’s one sure-fire way of distancing a team from capturing a championship, it is allowing the narratives of the past affect decisions of the present and future. With how fast windows of competitiveness open and shut in the NFL, teams that are afraid to put their foot on the accelerator (in a sensible way) are often the ones left wondering ‘what if?’.

Eagles management, most notably Howie Roseman, has to recognize that signing impact free agents is a hallmark of championship teams. For every Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin signing that blew up in the face of an organization, there are the Jon Runyan and Troy Vincent signings that usher in eras of prolonged success. The Eagles were reckless during the 2011 offseason and signed players who did not fit into the culture of the locker room. Management has done an excellent job appeasing the locker room by signing several homegrown players to extensions. Given the exceptional health status of some of the veteran players on the Eagles toward the end of last season, there has to be a level of attraction for a player looking to return to his pre-injury self. Every team in the NFL could be interested in Revis’ services and, given their advancement in the Sports Science field, the Eagles could be the location that provides Revis the best opportunity to most quickly returning to his top-flight status.

One would have to think that bringing in a potentially elite talent who happens to have a chip on his shoulder would be well-received in the Eagles locker room. Revis is not a hired gun looking for the biggest payday. He is still under the impression that he can be the best cornerback in the league and, prior to his year in Tampa Bay, is used to playing in high-pressure situations. Revis wasn’t dominant in 2013, but he was very good. He is unlike Champ Bailey in the sense that he is not hoping to latch on for one more contract to hope and capture an elusive Super Bowl ring. In addition to trying to win a title, Revis has unfinished business and is young enough to get his own affairs in order while helping a team win a championship. He has no interest being a big name on a defense that masks his deficiencies. Revis wants to step in for an organization that has faith putting him on an island and rewarding said organization with the All-Pro performances everyone came to expect of him before his injury. The stars are aligned for the Eagles, for the second time in less than five seasons, to bring in the top free agent cornerback on the market. If they’re smart, they’ll ignore the results of the last time they pulled that trigger and trust their evaluation of the player. He might not be ‘Revis Island’ anymore, but he might be pretty close by the start of next season. Considering how miserable the Jets offense was when they had Revis, and the level of competition New York played at during his best years, there’s little reason to think an addition of that caliber couldn’t continue to steer the Eagles toward their first Super Bowl. Some team is going to feel like a kid on Christmas when they see Darrelle Revis holding up the jersey of his new team. Hopefully, he’ll be doing so standing next to Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly.

UPDATE: Eagles a front-runner for Revis according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. 

Nov 17, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) laughs on the sidelines as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Atlanta Falcons 41-28 at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports