It seems that we have a different version of the Darrelle Revis story every day. The New York Jets are interested in trading their hyper-talented but injured cornerback. The New York Jets are on the mend with Revis, and new general manager John Idzik (read: Jets owner Woody Johnson) wants to re-sign Revis to an eleventy billion-year deal before Revis pops loose as a free agent after the 2013 season. The Jets have every other team in the league as a potential trading partner, and then, just as suddenly, they have none. But one of the more credible angles in the ongoing drama between the Jets and Revis is the notion that the Jets could trade Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a deal that would give a Tampa Bay first-round pick to the Jets -- possibly the one they own in 2013, or perhaps the one they'll have in 2014.
At the owners' meetings on Monday, Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik gave the most leverage to the story so far, citing both his team's desperate need in the defensive backfield, and recent misses near the top end of the draft. It would seem, based on Dominik's comments, that the Bucs might be ready to gamble on a more sure thing than can be found in the draft.
“There’s only one [team] that knows who they’re taking,’’ Dominik told Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. “The thing I’d say is I feel really good about the success we’ve had drafting players. At the same point, I’m not going to sit there and be bull-headed and not think, 'What’s the best thing for the team going forward?' That’s the only way you can build it right.’’
And the Bucs have not always built it right through the draft under Dominik's tenure as GM, which started in 2009. The hit-and-miss nature of the process is hardly unique to Dominik, and we're not singling him out in that regard. But when you have questionable results from high-round picks (Brian Price, Arrelious Benn, Da'Quan Bowers) as much as you've hit the nail on the head (Mason Foster, Lavonte David, Doug Martin), you start to look at the big picture -- especially as it concerns the one unit that could keep the Bucs from getting to the next level from the 7-9 record they posted in 2012.
In that season, Tampa Bay finished 26th in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics against the pass, and third against the run. Obviously, upgrades to the secondary are in order, and Dominik already dropped the hammer once in that regard this offseason, signing former San Francisco 49ers safety Dashon Goldson to a five-year, $41.25 million contract on Mar. 13. Goldson will be paired with fellow safety Mark Barron, the team's first-round pick in 2012, and the Bucs are pretty much set there.
But at cornerback, it's a different story. Tampa Bay grew tired of Aqib Talib's off-field issues, and traded the volatile but talented defender to the New England Patriots last November for a couple of draft picks. Leonard Johnson and E.J. Biggers were the team's two primary cornerbacks last season based on snap counts against pass plays, and each player allowed an opposing quarterback rating in the 93 range, per Pro Football Focus - 75.0 is about the cut-off for better pass defenders.
The Jets have changed their strategy regarding Revis -- at one point, it seemed that they wanted to antagonize him by blowing him off as he expressed concerns about his future with the team, especially in light of the knee injury he suffered last September -- he's still rehabbing from that. Now, Idzik is all sweetness and light regarding Revis' recovery. The more positive stuff tends to come out when a general manager is convinced that he has a willing trade partner on the hook.
“He’s starting to progress,’’ Idzik said of Revis. “It’s really going to be a function of what he can do with his trainers. Darrelle is always going to push the envelope. We’re entrusting the people he has around him on a daily basis to pace him so he doesn’t overdo things but at the same rate, we’re pushing it to a degree that he gets back to full strength as soon as possible.’’
In the end, what may push the envelope for Dominik and the Bucs is the value of a truly elite cornerback, and the rarity of shutdown players at the position. And when you're in a division where you're facing Cam Newton, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan, it's a pretty important chip to have. The Bucs might be able to get Florida State's Xavier Rhodes with their 13th pick (Alabama's Dee MIlliner, the best cornerback in this draft class, will almost certainly be gone by then), or they could go with the relatively sure thing.
“They’re really hard to find,’’ Dominik said of great cornerbacks. “They really are rare and that makes them an interesting commodity. You go into the draft every year and everybody thinks maybe that’s the guy, but there are very few of them. When they come out, it’s pretty noticeable who they are.
“If we think it’s in the best interest of the team, we will do something. If that’s a player that everybody is speculating [i.e., Revis] or maybe it’s a player at a position that nobody has thought about. But certainly, these meetings are very healthy for those kinds of discussions to see if there is a way to get this team better and does that include players or draft picks or a combination? That’s what we’ll look at.’’
We can but wait and see -- Stroud speculates that any trade for Revis wouldn't happen right away -- but it certainly seems that the Bucs are more than willing to consider losing this year's first-round pick to gain some security at a position of great need.