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No Revis -- now what?
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In the spring of 2013 Bill Belichick oversaw what he termed a “re-do” of the wide receiver position in New England.
Two years later, and with seemingly even higher stakes, Belichick appears to be doing the same with the cornerback position.
Darrelle Revis returned “home” to the Jets on the opening day of free agency, taking a guaranteed $39 million to join Gang Green’s as yet unfulfilled hopes of unseating New England atop the AFC East and winning a Super Bowl for the first time since the only Roman Numeral needed for the world’s biggest game was an “I.”
Brandon Browner was not retained and is working the free agent market in New Orleans and Washington with seemingly little expectation of a return to Foxborough.
So, where does that leave a Patriots team that has not yet even celebrated its latest Super Bowl championship with a trip to the White House?
Let’s start with the facts of the situation. The Patriots won the Super Bowl with Revis helping to transform the pass defense into a clearly complementary factor in both regular season and postseason success.
But Belichick and Tom Brady also won the Super Bowl for Robert Kraft long before the idea of Revis calling Gillette Stadium home was even a football fantasy.
And we know for certain that the Patriots will field an 11-man unit on defense on opening night that will include at least a pair of starting (if not starting-caliber) cornerbacks.
The guy who lines up at left corner, or who will be considered New England’s “No. 1” corner, won’t be anywhere near as good as the future Hall of Famer Revis. It is what it is.
So how do we get from the disappointment of Revis’ departure to the reality of regular season game action? The options are aplenty even if they’re not quite as appealing as now-jilted Patriots fans might hope.
In-house: With Revis and Browner removed, New England’s cornerback depth chart includes veteran Kyle Arrington, third-year former third-round pick Logan Ryan, former starter-turned-2014-curiosity Alfonzo Dennard, Super Bowl legend Malcolm Butler and practice squanders Justin Green and Daxton Swanson. While Arrington has had success as a slot player, his work on the outside has been far from elite. Ryan’s seven interceptions in two seasons are probably misleading in terms of how well he’s played overall. Dennard was a healthy scratch most of last season but seemed to be trending in a decent direction as a potential No. 2 corner over his previous two seasons when healthy. None, though, is a sure-fire starter never mind what would be considered a true No. 1 corner in the NFL.
Free agency: Revis was the top free agent corner. He’s obviously off the market. The next tier of available talent included Byron Maxwell, Cary Williams and Brandon Flowers. All are inked to new big-money deals. The names left in free agency might be veterans worthy of competing for playing time, but certainly the likes of Tramon Williams, Ike Taylor, Cortland Finnegan, Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson nor anyone else would bring excitement or expectation as a Revis replacement.
Draft: Thanks to last season with Revis, the Patriots will be selecting with the 32nd pick of the first round come April. A team that needs to draft a young, elite cornerback usually needs to do that in the first round, often times high in the round. Revis, Patrick Peterson, Joe Haden, Champ Bailey, Charles Woodson, Ty Law and most of the top corners of the last couple decades were first-round picks. Guys like Richard Sherman are by far the exception. The Patriots last first-round cornerback was Devin McCourty, who worked out for an Pro Bowl year before he had to later move to safety. Getting a Pro Bowl rookie is actually probably the Patriots best hope at this point. Could that be a guy like Washington’s Marcus Peters, who has some red flags after getting kicked off the Huskies squad? NFLDraftScout.com has only Michigan State’s Trae Waynes as a sure-fire first-round prospect. The site includes Peters, Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson, Miami of Ohio’s Quinten Rollins and Florida State’s P.J. Williams as possible first- or second-round picks. Will one of those be around and worthy at 32? Would Belichick trade up for the right guy at the right price? He might have to at this point.
Trade: New England added a veteran No. 1 cornerback via trade with the Aqib Talib deadline deal a couple years back. That worked out as well as could have been hoped, aside from the veteran’s balky health. But New England probably can’t wait till the trade deadline, or expect a high-level option to be available this time around. No. 1 cornerbacks are one of the premier positions in the pass-happy NFL. They’re hard to get. They’re harder to pry away from other teams. Could there be another guy who for some reason falls out of favor elsewhere? Maybe. Likely? Probably not.
So, Belichick and Nick Caserio have the next couple months to deal with the situation at cornerback and with the pass defense as a whole. They aren’t going to replace Revis’ ability or production. Heck, they might not even be able to replace what Browner brought to the table in terms of physicality and immeasurable energy/swagger.
But there are options to pull from, there will be answers and the Patriots will take the field on opening night with Brady, Belichick and the rest ready once again to compete for a division crown and a potential fifth-straight trip to the AFC title game.
Life with Revis for 2014 – a deal that both sides probably knew might be a one-year arrangement – was Super successful. But life prior to Revis surprisingly landing in Foxborough last spring was pretty damn successful too. Read