At one point during the latest episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” Jets coach Rex Ryan explained to veteran wide receiver Laveranues Coles(notes) why the team had to cut him. It was over salary reasons, but Ryan said the team hoped to bring back Coles in the second week of the season when his contract won’t be fully guaranteed.
Here’s a little piece of information for Ryan and the rest of the New York Jets: If Revis doesn’t get a new contract soon, New York doesn’t have to worry about the star cornerback showing up. Ever.
As the clock ticks to the beginning of the NFL season, the relationship between the Jets and Revis is ticking toward an end. A divorce, really. That might sound like hysteria to some but it's reality.
You can hear the agitation in Ryan’s voice when he talks about the overall state of his team. During one moment in “Hard Knocks,” Ryan chewed the Jets out for not playing with urgency, a bad sign for any team, particularly for one that hasn’t won a championship in more than four decades.
Jets fans can pump their chest about allowing only one touchdown in the first three games of preseason, but that means nothing. If the Jets are really going to run Ryan’s high-risk, blitz-heavy defense, they have to have Revis. As gifted as cornerback Antonio Cromartie(notes) is, he’s not tough enough to emulate Revis.
If the Jets can't bridge the gap between what they are offering Revis and what he believes they promised him at the end of last season, he’s not showing up, period.
As in ever again.
At the end of last season, when the Jets were going to the AFC championship game and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was renaming Manhattan “Revis Island,” the Jets were floating on an attention high. When it all came crashing in the loss to Indianapolis, the Jets couldn’t live with the buzzkill. They openly talked about getting Revis, who has three seasons left on his contract, signed to a lifetime deal. Ryan said Revis was the best defensive player in the league. It was an open declaration of love, the kind of wooing you see in Julia Roberts’ movies.
And at that point, the Jets were committed. Owner Woody Johnson can say all he wants about how that was then and this is now, but the fact is that his team made what Revis believed to be a promise. That means a lot to a 25-year-old man who plays a game of furious emotion and passion. This isn't an abstract business deal.
Revis believes the Jets have toyed with him by making their initial overtures so public. If this had been done privately, Revis would have shown up for training camp even if a new contract hadn’t been agreed upon.
The problem is that love in the NFL is expressed in dollars and the Jets didn’t think this one through. In fact, when the idea of a long-term contract for Revis (10 years) was broached with this reporter months ago, I took all of about 30 seconds to figure out that the approximate number Revis would be looking for was roughly $160 million.
And I’m not exactly a contract negotiator.
What’s strange is that the Jets should have anticipated that. The Jets knew agents Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod well enough to understand that this wasn’t going to be easy if they didn’t take a strong approach. It wasn’t the first time considering Revis held out as a rookie in 2007. It wasn’t when Schwartz and Feinsod were representing former Jets guard Pete Kendall(notes) and tight end Chris Baker.
Schwartz and Feinsod crafted a brilliant contract for Revis the first time, one so good that no other team has ever done it since. Schwartz and Feinsod know leverage and they have certain principles.
More important, Revis has principles, too. If you were Revis and had a pretty good idea that your value isn’t going down anytime soon (there’s plenty of proof of that around the NFL) and you no longer had faith in the Jets, would you ever play for them again? Is that the kind of professional, working marriage you’d want to get into?
His uncle, Sean Gilbert, once sat out an entire year with Washington when he wanted between $4 million and $5 million a year and the Redskins were offering $3.2 million.
After a year away, Gilbert got $7 million a year from Carolina.
Gilbert learned that great players get great money even if they miss an entire season. This year alone, No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford(notes) got $50 million guaranteed even though he was coming off an injury-marred season in which he barely played. Likewise, wide receiver Dez Bryant(notes) and tight end Jermaine Gresham(notes) were both first-round picks this year despite barely playing last season in college.
There are plenty of other examples that feed this notion.
Revis isn’t wrong to ask for a deal that eclipses Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha’s(notes) $15.17 million average. Beyond the fact that Denver cornerback Champ Bailey(notes) isn’t far behind this year with a base salary of $13 million, any 10-year or long-term deal for that type of money means the deal will be eclipsed numerous times in the coming years. It’s the way the NFL works.
To put it in another perspective, Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning(notes) will soon reset the bar for what the top players in the league are worth. The Colts will be lucky – yes, lucky – to get Manning’s deal done for less than an average of $25 million a year.
And if the top quarterback in the league is worth $25 million a year, what is the top cornerback or defensive end, left tackle or wide receiver – all guys who drastically impact the quarterback – are going to be worth?
There’s going to come a point where $16 million a year for Revis is a decent price.
The Jets can counter that by saying that they’re doing Revis a favor by redoing his contract now, at least one year in advance of free agency. That’s reasonable, but here’s another way of looking at it: If Revis plays out his contract over the next three years, he gets $21 million. The Jets then would be forced to put a franchise tag (assuming the franchise tag still exists) for a minimum of $18 million for 2013 (based on the fact that Revis’ 2012 salary is scheduled to be $15 million.
That’s $39 million over four years, but then the averages start to really jump, going way north of $20 million a year. From that perspective, $16 million a year looks like a good price.
But more important than any of that is a simple fact: Either the Jets get this done or they never have Revis again.