darrelle revis2

We’re now close to zero hour for Darrelle Revis. That’s also known as 4 p.m. ET, a time when the conditional fourth-round pick the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave the New York Jets in last year’s trade to acquire Revis escalates to become a third rounder.

Revis will either be released or traded, and likely the former. There’s a clear preference for both sides, with Revis wanting to hit the open market and choose his destination, and the Bucs wanting to get something in return for a valuable asset. But the end game is the same: Revis can quite literally count the minutes left in his time as a Buc.

This is a very familiar position for him. All involved agree that he’s the league’s best cornerback this side of some other guy in Seattle, and when he’s fully healthy, Revis could likely win that argument or at worst be Richard Sherman’s equal. While there were initially questions about how he would fit in his current (and soon to be former) situation in Tampa when Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier were hired as the head coach and defensive coordinator respectively, doubts about his usage in a Tampa 2 scheme have been sufficiently debunked. First by Smith himself, and then by those who spent at least three minutes watching how Charles Tillman was utilized under him in Chicago.

Yet soon one of the elite defenders at a highly coveted position during a passing era is about to join his third team in three seasons. The reason is simple, but solving the problem isn’t.

What exactly is the problem?

Numbers. Lots of numbers, and lots of money that’s inflated a booming market.

Before we get too deep into the history of Revis and how he’s re-shaped the cornerback market, it’s important to gauge the current cornerback landscape. As you’ve now been told at least once every eight minutes, Revis signed what was essentially six one-year contracts with the Bucs that pay him $16 million each (a total of $96 million, the richest defensive back contract in league history). That means while his yearly salary and cap hit is a special kind of pain, he can be cut at no cost if said pain becomes too excruciating. Which is the decision Tampa general manager Jason Licht is about to make.

Even though it feels like Revis has been in our lives for a lot longer, he’s only 28. For perspective on how young that is at cornerback, look at the marquee names that were locked up during just the first hours of free agency last night and earlier in the day. Revis isn’t that much older than Sam Shields who’s 26, Vontae Davis also turns 26 in May, Brent Grimes will be 31 before the start of next season, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie still awaits a deal on the market before he turns 28 in April. The exception is Alterraun Verner, who just had his breakout season at 25.

Most importantly, Aqib Talib is also 28 years old and he just signed a mammoth contract with the Denver Broncos that will pay him an average of $9.5 million over six years, with $26 million guaranteed. The last part there — the guaranteed part, and the part that matters most — is indeed mountainous, which warms Revis’ heart.

But the yearly salary isn’t. Excluding Talib, here are the other contracts handed out thus far in free agency:

  • Davis: four years for $39 million, with $20 million guaranteed ($9.75 million annually)
  • Verner: four years for $26.5 million, with $14 million guaranteed ($6.6 million annually)
  • Grimes: four years for $32 million, with $16 million guaranteed ($8 million annually)
  • Shields: four years for $39 million, with $12.4 million guaranteed ($9.85 million annually)

The guaranteed money is in line with Revis’ current pay, which favors him getting another lucrative money dump. Or we could look at it another way: at Revis’ current rate you’re purchasing only two years of Revis for the same price it costs to employ Verner or Grimes for four.

That’s the problem, and the reason why Revis has been so nomadic. Though hurtful, the guaranteed money is viewed as a sort of collateral damage when dealing with a top tier corner in today’s market. It’s the cost of doing business to acquire a player who can shut down half the field. Fine, but then paying him much more than the rest of his peers each year becomes a salary cap anchor, and it limits a general manager’s ability to either retain or attract other valuable assets.

How did we get here?

The journey started at little after midnight on September 6, 2010. In the wee hours Revis agreed to a contract extension with the New York Jets following a lengthy training camp holdout, and it was a four-year deal worth $32 million. At first that sounds meh compared to the contracts above. But then there’s this: it was fully guaranteed.

At the time Revis had established himself as the best cornerback in the league, something he continued to do until being slowed by his ACL tear recovery this past season. Prior to 2013 Revis hadn’t allowed more than 49 receptions in a single year, and over a five-year stretch he allowed just eight touchdowns. Even more incredibly, between 2009 and 2011 — his final three healthy seasons in New York before the injury — Revis allowed an opposing passer rating of just 44.8 on balls thrown in his direction, according to Pro Football Focus.

The only difference between pre-2010 Darrelle Revis and post-2010 Darrelle Revis was money. Not only was he the game’s best cornerback according to those numbers and others (like 109 passes defensed, and a single-season high of 31 in 2009), now he was paid like it too. And if his play continued to ascend, the precedent was set to make Revis rightfully believe that cash flow should not only continue, but escalate.

Looking back then, the contract anchor was dropped in 2010, and reeling it in is pretty hard.

What’s the solution?

If Revis is released, the market has to correct his salary and cap hit. If that doesn’t happen he’ll continue to be a vagabond. A ruthless, intercepting vagabond.

Even if we go beyond this year Revis’ annual salary is still in a completely different realm of money vomiting than that of his peers. By yearly salary the highest paid non-Revis cornerback is currently Brandon Carr, according to overthecap.com, and he’s getting $10.2 million.

Revis is actually far close to quarterback territory. No really, here’s a few of the top 10 highest paid QBs that aren’t far away:

  • Eli Manning: $16.2 million annually
  • Matthew Stafford: $17.7
  • Tony Romo: $18 million
  • Jay Cutler: $18.1 million

But if he’s traded (unlikely, though still possible) the bi-annual Revis shopping will continue, he’ll keep that bloated contract, and a year from now or even this spring when his negotiations start Richard Sherman will begin swimming in his vast money pool.

UPDATE: To the surprise of no one, the Bucs granted Revis his release after he wasn’t willing to take a paycut. That bit about a market correction will hopefully take place now, with Revis’ new contract falling more in line with the deal given to Talib.