With Darrelle Revis now in Tampa Bay, we wanted to take one long last look at his career with the Jets and reflect on how the situation came to where it ended on Sunday night.
Brian Bassett, TheJetsBlog.comRevis was a player that the Jets coaches, scouts and front offices knew they badly wanted as they approached the 2007 NFL Draft. On draft’s first day, the Jets traded their 25th, 59th and 164th overall picks to Carolina to gain the 14th pick and a sixth rounder allowing them to select Darrelle Revis, a player destined to become a cornerstone of the defense and looks to continue to in Tampa Bay. In addition to Revis, the returned sixth rounder from Carolina later helped the Jets to trade up to acquire LB David Harris, now the only remaining defensive player still with the Jets from the 2007 season.
The Jets 2007 NFL Draft class might have only had four selections, but the impact of adding Harris and Revis was unquesioned for the Jets defense over the next six years. “For the quality of players we were able to acquire,” Mike Tannenbaum told reporters the night after the conclusion of the draft, “we thought it was worth it.” It might have seemed like a risk at the time, but former GM Mike Tannenbaum and coach Eric Mangini saw Revis as all reward. The two had coveted Revis and had done as much homework as possible on the Junior cornerback from the University of Pittsburgh. When watching game film, Mangini marveled that Revis was almost never beaten by a receiver. Eric Mangini once called Revis “inherently competitive” — a prophetic phrase even in his desire to be one of the league’s top paid players. Tannenbaum famously quizzed the limousine driver who took Revis to and from the airport on his pre-draft visit to the Jets. The Jets GM later quipped that “it was just another test he passed.”
Revis had to pass a lot of tests growing up on the hardscrabble streets of Aliquippa, PA. Gangs, drugs and violence were fixtures in his community and while his family kept him close, there were too many sobering lessons for a young man of his age. His family kept him away from most of it, but not all. One of Revis’ uncles once belonged to a gang at the Griffin Heights apartment complex in his town and Revis often begged his uncle to tag along. After months, his uncle reluctantly agreed. It was the first and last time Revis ever asked to join him.
Passing tests was easy for Darrelle and if he had passed every test leading in the pre-draft process, he and the Jets received an incomplete when both sides were unable to come to terms on a rookie contract prior to the start of training camp. Getting rookies in on time was a source of pride for Tannenbaum and something that had only happened on his watch once prior with the Jets.
It had been ten years since rookie James Farrior held out in 1997, the year of Mike Tannenbaum’s first year in New York while working under Parcells. Tannenbaum knew the importance of avoiding rookie holdouts, an event that could hold back rookies from valuable learning time in camp.
The main holdup of the contract was over one issue, the length of the contract. Revis had watched his uncle Sean Gilbert’s process in the NFL and how teams can control players through extra years and franchising. Staying away from a similar situation was something deeply ingrained into the rookie and he knew his conviction in seeing it address in his contract mattered. Gilbert had sat out a whole season after a contract/franchising dispute with the Washington Redskins, a move which saw Gilbert traded to the Panthers after a year to get the deal he wanted. At the time, the Jets were adamant about making the deal six-years and Revis’s agents Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod (who were mired in another Jets contract squabble with another client, Pete Kendall) preferred a five-year term for their rookie client and the inability to franchise. While there had been many passes, the Jets worked late into the night on August 14th with Schwartz and Feinsod, while Eric Mangini visited with Revis’s mother Diana Gilbert that night to encourage a deal. A deal was finally struck the next day, August 15th 2007 and Revis jumped into practices. It hadn’t been four months since his drafting by the Jets and while the team might have known what they had on the field and in the gym, the clouds were already darkening over the front office.
Revis eventually settled on a generous contract that many thought exorbitant on the Jets part, based on where he was drafted. The deal was a six year contract worth as much as $36 million and which included $11 million in guarantees and a signing bonus of $4.7 million. The contract also contained stipulations against franchising along with language to make the deal voidable or able to be bought back by the Jets. While there was no franchising, it still allowed the Jets to bank on the fact they thought they had one of the league’s very best cornerbacks and it didn’t take them long to see it for themselves. Revis got into camp late and while there was some initial hazing, his teammates quickly took him under their wing and he spent countless hours studying the team’s defensive scheme as well as doing exhaustive film work. The talent and the hard work paid off and Revis tallied three interceptions and a staggering 17 passes defensed in his rookie year.
There were signs of greatness from Revis in his rookie season, but it wasn’t without its low points. Lee Evans got the best of Revis in an October game against the Bills and then in a 2007 December 9th matchup against the Browns, Revis had one of his toughest games. Future Jet Braylon Edwards caught a number of key passes matched up against Revis, most notably in a one-two punch in the second half in which Edwards caught a 45-yarder to put the Browns in scoring reach. Then two plays later, QB Derek Anderson went back to Edwards, who scored a four-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone. Both passes came over Revis, who didn’t mince words later in the locker room, “it wasn’t a positive game for me.”
To his credit, Revis bounced back with a solid game the next week against the then seemingly unstoppable Spygate Patriots. Revis faced off against Randy Moss and held the Patriot receiver without a score for only the third time of the 2007 regular season. Of course, with handshakes between Mangini and Belichick to obsess over, Revis’s play got lost in the shuffle.
If 2007 was a baptism by fire, then 2008 was when Jets fans really began to see how valuable Revis could be to the team. Pro Football Focus ranked Revis as their third best corner that season, beating out much bigger names of the time like Champ Bailey, Charles Woodson and Asante Samuel among others. Revis’s rapid growth at the start of the 2008 season was noticeable. Within just a few games, it became clear what the Jets long-term goals were around Revis; to effectively match him up against an opponent’s best receiver and have Revis neutralize them. “[The coaches] want to put our best against their best,” Revis told reporters that September. “As a competitor, I want to go up against the best every week. That’s why they drafted me, why they think I can do that job.” Over the course of the rest of that season, Revis only became more consistent in his play. There were never bad games for Revis and his good games were getting better and he started impacting the game more and more.
2008 was also special in another way for Revis. Veteran corner Ty Law joined the team in November, just in time for a Thursday night matchup against the Patriots, a game the Jets won 34-31 in overtime. Law also grew up in Aliquippa Pennsyvania and was an icon and mentor to Revis. Law, who had played for the Jets in 2005 saw it as an opportunity to pass the torch to a fellow ‘Quip. “That’s my little boy,” said the then 34-year-old Law. “I’ve watched him grow up and to be able to help him now, it’ll be a good deal. He’s wearing No. 24, and he’s representing me. He’s a stud, and it’s going to be more of a pleasure to watch him grow.”
Revis was progressively getting better over the course of 2008, but it was the proverbial tree-falling-in-the-woods. Since all the media attention was locked on Brett Favre and the collapse of the Jets over the second half of the season, few noticed the quiet and steadily increasing play of Revis. The coach who brought him in just two years prior was now gone and the team was moving on to a new coaching paradigm in an attempt to get out from the shadow of the Patriots. While Revis’s game had been improving quickly, Revis himself openly stated that there were a few things he thought were lacking in Mangini. “He needed to sit us down, correct the mistakes, and get more in-depth with what we need to do, and what we need to accomplish as a team,” Revis told WFAN back in early 2009. “He’ll say one thing on the board, but then relating to the player, [he] had a tough time sometimes.”
The Jets got a much more approachable coach in Rex Ryan and one who intricately knew how to use great cornerbacks. In his introductory press conference, Ryan called Revis “the best cornerback” in the league. While many were put off by Ryan’s early boasting, calling Revis that during his first day on the job was prophesy. Revis was named the AFC Defensive Player of the year, was the AFC reception return yards leader and racked up an unconscionable 31 passes defensed — a number that has never been repeated. He ranked first overall among cornerbacks according to Pro Football Focus and the Jets held top opposing wideouts to the lowest effectiveness over the course of the season. In average yards allowed to oppsing #1 receivers, the Jets lead the league by a huge margin at just 30.5 yards per game. The most impressive part? He did it against some of the league’s very best players that year: Andre Johnson, Randy Moss (twice), Marques Colston, Steve Smith, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne and Chad Ochocinco were among them and none of them had more than 70 yards a game. The strength of Revis’s play helped the Jets create one of the league’s most suffocating defenses that year and allowed the team’s rookie quarterback some breathing room to make a postseason bid.
As many fathers and uncles talk to their sons and nephews about the 1969 Amazins, Willis Reed’s Game 7 appearance or Maris & Mantle, the 2009 season by Revis has that same quality. That season was poetry, poetry with a regular pattern. As the season went on, the refrain was always the same. The Jets would face off against an impressive receiver or quarterback and the question would inevitably be asked again; but can Revis dominate this game? And each week the answer would always be a resounding YES. Rex Ryan called the season “the best year a cornerback has ever had.”
While 2009 didn’t produce a Defensive Player of the Year honor for Revis (robbed in the voting by Charles Woodson) it did produce his now famous moniker Revis Island. Revis Island of course was a figurative place where opposing receivers would get marooned or shipwrecked when up against the Jets and Revis. It might have been small and inhospitable, but Revis Island was the one place where Jets fans could ruthlessly rule over any NFL team. It was a clever and definitive of the post Mangini Jets and the fans embraced it lustily. The zeitgeist reached a crescendo with Mayor Bloomberg’s pronouncement that Manhattan was unoffically “Revis Island” for the team’s 2009-2010 postseason run. In what now seems in retrospect one of the most fitting acts, Revis sought trademark protection for the phrase.
Due to the magnitude of how well Revis played in 2009, the team’s situation with Revis quickly shifted. While the Jets didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, the knew what they had in Revis and based on the prior negotiations over his rookie deal, the team approached Revis’ agents seek a deal that would make Revis a Jet for the remainder of his career. A deal was not struck and rumors of Revis’ displeasure became reality when in spring a practice, Revis faked an injury to protest his contract situation. That move was the warning shot across the team’s bow that Revis was about to hold out until a new deal was struck.
For the most part, the public was on his side. Having just become an NFL household name and doing so in such an impressive fashion, it was impossible for the Jets to ignore the public pressure and not do a deal. Knowing that he was still a ways from free agency and having proven himself to be one of the best defenders in football, Revis and his agents were looking for a massive new contract once the Jets had opened Pandora’s box in approaching him in the first place.
What followed was a very long process to get Revis and the Jets to create a new deal. Media blackouts, clandestine meetings at the Roscoe Diner, irate conference calls with Rex Ryan … more beseeching of Revis’s mother and uncle … the contract took months to renegotiate and gave both sides something they wanted, but wasn’t without its thorns. In the end, Revis got a huge payday worth $46 million over four years and assurances that the Jets could not franchise him, while the Jets got their star player plus the assurances that he would never hold out again because of severe penalties adding years back to the deal should he do so.
When the deal was struck, GM Mike Tannenbaum was open about how doubtful he was that a deal would get done. “This was one of those things where I really wasn’t optimistic,” Tannenbaum said. “I really wasn’t. I’m an optimist by nature, but this was really hard. There was a lot of heavy lifting, a lot of work put into it.”
Revis was aware of the strain his holdout had been and acknowledged it on Twitter. “It not has only been hard on you [the fans] but it has for me too. I just want to tell y’all that I’m sorry for this process and I can’t wait to get back on the field.”
Revis was ready to get back to playing, but whether the Jets and Revis were both happy with their deal seemed uncertain. The agents later referred to the deal as a “Band-Aid” disparagingly, but Revis’ signing made for a fairytale ending for HBO & NFL Films and as neatly as possible squashed the Waiting for Godot storyline of the 2010 installment of Hard Knocks.
Of course, less than a week after signing and this warm and fuzzy moment, Revis told NBC Sports that he might orchestrate yet another holdout the following year, should he need to do so. To many, that was the point where his good will in the public started eroding.
After all the maneuvering leading into the season, 2010 didn’t go as hoped. Revis played well in stretches, his conditioning was questionable. Against the Patriots in a September game, Revis pulled his hamstring on a pass to Randy Moss that ended up being a touchdown after a war of words between Moss and Revis during the previous postseason. Revis then missed three games and admitted that absence from training camp might have been a factor. In October of that year, he was ticketed for speeding when driving 80 mph in a 40 mph zone because he was late to practice. Until a stellar late stretch and playoff run, 2010 was the most unRevislike season of his career.
Putting all the ugliness behind him, Revis returned to form in 2011 with another dominant season. If the world wasn’t paying attention in 2009, Revis made sure that wouldn’t happen again in 2011 when he intercepted Tony Romo to help the Jets clinch a victory on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 during a Sunday Night Football game. A month later, Revis set a team record (tied) by returning an interception 100 yards against the Dolphins.
2011 was a statistical success, but missed the playoffs due to poor execution and a lack of chemistry and leadership from within. At the 2012 Pro Bowl, Revis was asked about the on-field meltdown of Santonio Holmes against the Dolphins. Revis answered that “this past year was very frustrating for not just me, but for the team as a whole,” Revis told NFL Network. “There was a lot of stuff going on… behind the scenes that I figured we would have [fixed] it [at the time]. Then everything would have been cool and we could have moved on. Obviously we didn’t. The season kind of spiraled late during the season.”
Revis also told reporters that he and Rex had a serious talk after the season ended and Revis mentioned that Rex Ryan didn’t know all of the drama that was killing the Jets from within. “After the season, [Rex and I] talked,” Revis said from the Pro Bowl. “Basically, he didn’t know a lot of things that were going on behind the scenes. It was just so much stuff. I’m really not going to get into it because some of the stuff is real deep. But he didn’t know a lot of the things. He wanted people to say things to him. But obviously it didn’t come out. It came out on the field (late in the season).”
Putting both quotes together was troubling, for a variety of reasons. The Jets players didn’t have the leadership and communication skills needed to handle the bad blood between players during the course of the 2011, but Revis didn’t seem able to take the mantle of leader of this team, though there was every reason for him to be. Revis was one of the team’s longest tenured defenders. Revis was the team’s best player by far, shutting down opponents week in and week out. Revis worked harder than most anyone else on the team and younger players emulated his work ethic. Revis made more money than anyone else on the team during the 2011 season. Revis had everything going for him to be the one player that all the others would follow without question, but when it came to squashing locker room controversy and pulling the team together, he took a passive role in explaining and resolving the problem and in notifying his coach, just according to his own quotes.
After taking $25 million in compensation in 2011 through bonuses and salary, there were rumblings about Revis’ discontent with his 2012 salary as the Jets prepared for the 2012 NFL Draft. Revis was set to make $46 million over the course of his four years, but the numbers were swinging to the Jets favor in 2012. The threats of a potential holdout seemed real, but they went nowhere and the public started to feel the fatigue of the third threat of a holdout in six years. With just two years left on his contract should he not hold out as opposed to four years at a salary that would greatly displease Revis should he stay away from camp, the team’s cornerback chose to quietly show up for training camp and put his contract complaints for 2012 behind him. Revis had made his point; if he was going to stay with the Jets, he wanted a new contract after the 2012 season ended.
Then the 2012 season happened. In the season opener, Revis suffered a concussion which kept him off the field in Week 2. In his first game back on September 23, Revis tore the ACL on his left knee in a non-contract injury. The injury was obviously serious and his return for the season seemed doubtful. Rex Ryan held off putting Revis on IR for a few weeks, hoping he could come back for the playoffs, but as the season unfolded Ryan eventually relented.
As soon as Revis was taken off the field, the questions began about what his long-term viability with the Jets might be. Had fans already seen Revis play his last game with the Jets? Coming off injury, it seemed unlikely that the Jets were going to renegotiate the contract with Revis, something he was already upset over in leading into 2012. How was the situation about to get better? If anything the injury made the situation infinitely more complex.
We all know what happened from here, but in the end the Jets and Darrelle Revis parted because they didn’t see eye to eye on matching up his contributions to compensation. Revis is assuredly one of the best players in the league and deserves to get recognized for that. But the team who quizzed his limo driver for dirt, the team who risked a daring draft day trade to pick him, the team who broke their normal protocol to renegotiate his deal earlier than they normally would had gone as far as they felt possible.
Revis is betting on himself, and rightly so.
Jets are betting on themselves, and rightly so.