There are legitimate criticisms one could identify, and they aren’t just nits. Darrelle Revis will turn 30 in July, and his contract far outpaces that of every other cornerback in the NFL. He is getting $39M guaranteed at a rate of $7.8M in guaranteed money per season, numbers that are more than 50% higher than every other corner. He will count for $48M against the cap over the next three years. Nobody knows how Revis will age, but he’s had one ACL surgery and he’s never been a player with top notch speed, which means he can’t really afford to lose a step (quick, think how many cornerbacks — as opposed to wide receivers — you can think of that get by on veteran guile).
Revis is all about Revis, which is a crime in some circles. He’s not loyal, and is now switching teams — incredibly — for the third consecutive season. The Jets were one of the worst teams in football by any measure last year, and with no clear answer at quarterback and holes throughout the roster, squarely fall within the definition of a “rebuilding team.” And writing blank checks for 30-year-old cornerbacks is not exactly part of Rebuilding 101.
But this is a win for the Jets, and those have been pretty tough to come by lately. New York whiffed in an attempt to sign Revis last year, and watched him instead sign with the rival Patriots. The Jets went all in on the Mike Tannenbaum/Rex Ryan/Mark Sanchez regime, and it wound up imploding. The team traded for Tim Tebow. The John Idzik experiment was a disaster. Geno Smith, Dee Milliner, and Calvin Pryor have fallen far short of expectations. There was a butt-fumble and a butt fumble part 2.
The Jets have lost 11 games over the last three years by 20 or more points, tied with the Jaguars and Titans and one back of the Raiders for the worst mark in the NFL. New York and those three teams are also the only four to have been outscored by over 300 points since 2012.
The Jets went to the AFC Championship Game in 2009, and returned in 2010. New York started 8-5 in ’11, before the meltdown: an ugly 0-3 finish (complete with a Santonio Holmes implosion in the finale in Miami) followed by the three years described in the previous paragraph. Practically overnight, the Jets went from a top four team to a bottom four franchise.
When Jets fans think about the team’s last 51 games, there are few silver linings. New York went 18-33, with five losses by 30+ points, 12 by 20+ points, and 18 by 14+ points. That’s right: over the last 51 games, the Jets have won as many games as they have lost by at least two touchdowns.
The positives? Sheldon Richardson, obtained in the Revis trade. Muhammad Wilkerson becoming a dominant defensive end. Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson not succumbing to the effects of age just yet. The acquisitions of Eric Decker and Chris Ivory. And that’s about it.
New York had no choice but to fire Ryan after 2014, albeit a season or two too late. Enter Todd Bowles as head coach and Mike Maccagnan as general manager. You can forgive Jets fans for exuding little more than cautious optimism about those hires.
Then, a trade for Brandon Marshall, which — combined with Decker and Jeremy Kerley — arguably gives the Jets their best set of wide receivers in over a decade. Players like Buster Skrine and James Carpenter were signed to fill holes; while neither is a star, both represented upgrades at talent-poor positions.
But then came Revis. No Jets fan truly thought he was going to come back, because things just haven’t worked out for New York in years. In short, the Jets can’t have nice things. Can one cornerback make a difference? Yes and no. The quarterback is still Geno Smith (or, perhaps, Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was acquired yesterday for a conditional pick), and all the improvements in the passing game on paper won’t earn the benefit of the doubt as long as that’s the case. And the Jets are still a below average team on paper, at least as of March 11th.
But there is something special about bringing Revis back. The Jets could often be the butt of jokes, but never Revis. He was special, and Jets fans — and everyone else — knew it. But why talk about it when one video sums it up what Revis meant to this team?
With Revis, the entire defense played with more confidence, and for good reason: he made everyone around him better. And with Revis now back, you can at least start to see something build in New York. Wilkerson, Richardson, and Damon Harrison on the line. David Harris and Calvin Pace are more names than anything at this point, but Bowles was able to get the most out of aging veterans in Arizona. He also has a young linebacker in Demario Davis to work with, and the Cardinals 2013 defense was headlined by dominant inside linebacker play. The real treat would be if the team could add an edge rusher with the 6th pick: if that player turns out to be a stud, the Jets would suddenly feature a dominant front seven.
As for the back end? The cornerback position has been completely restocked: Revis, Skrine, and likely Antonio Cromartie, who is expected to also return to New York. Injured players like Milliner and Dexter McDougle can take their time recovering from injury: if the Jets get something out of either of them (particularly Milliner, a former first round pick who has at least flashed some ability), they would boast one of the best groups of cornerbacks in the NFL. And with improved coverage players around them, it’s easy to envision Antonio Allen and Pryor being much more successful. Both were stretched thin last year (Allen at corner, Pryor as a centerfielder) due to the weak corners, and played terribly. But now, Allen could play at free safety (and not have to cover as much ground), while Pryor could return to the role he was drafted to play: in-the-box intimidator.
The offense is an electric pass-catching running back (C.J. Spiller? Reggie Bush?) away from looking great on paper other than at quarterback. Marshall is a legitimate WR1 who should help the whole offense; Decker, as we all know, can be a great WR2, and Kerley has been one of the top slot receivers in the NFL for years (but was exposed as the main weapon in the offense). Ivory can be a great power running back, and the line is good enough to win with. Quarterback is the concern, of course, but there was nothing that could have been done about that.
After 3 years of depressing losses, there is finally optimism for Jets fans. Is it a little silly that signing one cornerback can do that? It sure is. But being a Jets fan is all about being a little silly.