Editor’s note: NESN.com will go position by position to break down the Patriots’ depth chart heading into the 2015 offseason. Next up: the cornerbacks.
Losing Darrelle Revis would completely alter the New England Patriots’ defensive philosophy.
That’s not hyperbole. There is no cornerback in free agency or the NFL draft like Revis, and if the Patriots can’t retain him, then they’ll need to start from scratch.
The Patriots transformed from a Cover-2 zone coverage defense to press-man Cover-1 scheme when they traded for cornerback Aqib Talib midway through the 2012 season. They were unwilling to lock up Talib long term last offseason and lucked into Revis being cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If they lose Revis now, there is no mystery third option, and the Patriots need that No. 1 lock-down cornerback to run their current defense.
2015 DEPTH CHART: Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard, Justin Green, Daxton Swanson
2015 FREE AGENTS: none
Revis’ $20 million team option is both a blessing and a curse for the Patriots. They head into the offseason up against the salary cap because Revis counts for $25 million ($5 million carries over from last season, which allowed the Patriots to lessen his 2014 cap hit). That makes it nearly impossible to extend safety Devin McCourty or any other player until they figure out what to do with Revis.
The Patriots can elect to keep Revis on his $20 million option, but they would need to overhaul the rest of their defense and make difficult choices with McCourty, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo. The smarter option would be in signing the All-Pro to a longterm contract, but that might involve paying top dollar for Revis over a number of years with guaranteed money — something the Patriots typically are unwilling to do without some concessions from a 29-year-old player.
If the Patriots decline Revis’ option and can’t reach an new deal, then they go back to the drawing board, and it places an even greater onus on re-signing McCourty, who adds indescribable value in the deep half of the field by himself in a Cover 1, or sharing it with the strong safety in a Cover 2.
Losing Revis also could mean the end of the road for Browner, who has no guaranteed money remaining on his contract and excels in Cover 1 and Cover 3. Browner was very solid for the Patriots in their Super Bowl XLIX-winning season, but he’s not Revis, and he can’t carry a press-man defense.
If Revis is back, then it’s logical to keep Browner, as well. They performed very well together in 2014 with McCourty in the deep half of the field, which shouldn’t change next season.
One cornerback who likely won’t be back is Alfonzo Dennard, who is on the books for $1.5 million because he earned so much playing time in his first two NFL seasons. Dennard was placed on injured reserve midway through the season after losing his active roster spot to Butler.
Arrington, Butler and Ryan all are solid contributors for the Patriots, and should stick around whether or not Revis is retained.
If the Patriots hope to start a new dynasty and build on their Super Bowl XLIX title, then they should keep as much of their 2014 secondary together as possible. They need Revis and McCourty to keep their current philosophy in place, but finding enough money for both is easier said that done.
Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images
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