Repeating in the NFL has become the most difficult of assignments. No team has come closer than the Seattle Seahawks, who were about a yard away from shoving the ball in the endzone during the final seconds of Super Bowl XLIX and lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy once again.
Thanks to a superb play delivered by a previously unheralded rookie defensive back in Malcolm Butler, the New England Patriots did not let that happen.
The feeling here is that the Pats are facing one of the most critical moments they will face if they are going to have any chance of winning a second consecutive title next February.
While many have failed when it comes to figuring out Bill Belichick’s personnel strategy over the years, he simply cannot let Darrelle Revis get away when the new league year starts March 10 at 4 p.m. Eastern Time.
Belichick knows personnel better than anyone in the league, and he certainly knows it better than any sportswriter, no matter how many years of NFL coverage have gone into the bank account (34 years here).
But here’s one thing that is certain. Revis is the best cover man in the NFL, and the Patriots excelled at pass coverage throughout the majority of the 2014 season and were exceptional in that area in the postseason.
Compounding the issue for the Patriots is the impending free-agent status of safety Devin McCourty. While he did not get the same kind of kudos as safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor of the Seahawks, McCourty is a smart, active, instinctive, and tough player who was outstanding during the Patriots’ most crucial games.
This isn’t saying the Pats can’t defend their championship robustly without McCourty, but he is a vital piece who would be difficult to replace.
But the main issue is Revis’s status. Technically, he is under contract and will get paid $20 million during the 2015 season. However, New England is simply not going to pay that amount to their stellar cover man.
Instead, they would like to work a multi-year contract extension that is in line with Seattle’s Richard Sherman, Arizona’s Patrick Peterson, and Cleveland’s Joe Haden. Sherman has a four-year, $56 million contract, while Peterson has a five-year, $70 million deal.
There appears to be little doubt that the Patriots would match what either Peterson or Sherman is making in order to keep Revis in the fold, but that is not going to be enough.
Revis understands that the Patriots don’t want to pay $20 million a year for a cornerback, even if he is the best in the league. However, Revis is not going to settle for $14 million a year.
His previous contract with the Tampa Bay Bucs paid him $16 million, and he will want a deal that pays him more than that. He played a huge role in helping the Pats earn a championship, and he wants a raise.
So, if the Patriots really want to keep him, they have to come up with a minimum of $16.5 million just to sit down at the table with him. That’s just an opener, because Revis is not going to make it easy for the Pats after settling for a $12 million payday last year. Revis is likely to insist on a deal in the $17-18 million range.
Belichick can scheme all he wants and try to figure out how his defense can get by without Revis and still have a chance to get back to the Super Bowl.
We’re not talking about another winning season and a divisional title. We’re talking bye week, home playoff victory and AFC title.
Unless Belichick can find a way to give the Pats a 1985 Bears type of pass rush, he needs the best cover man in the business, and he would also be well-served to bring back McCourty as well.
Pro football’s resident genius has no reason to over-complicate the situation. Belichick simply can’t do without Revis if he wants his team to defend its championship.
He will have to pay the man, and he almost certainly has to do it by March 9 or Revis may just fly away.