Darrelle Revis is headed back to the New York Jets with a record-setting, five-year, $70 million deal with $39 million guaranteed, leaving the New England Patriots to wonder what happened to the elite secondary that helped them win their elusive fourth Super Bowl title just last month.
Securing Revis was thought to be the Patriots’ top priority for the offseason, but once the numbers left the Pats' ballpark they tapped out on Revis, letting him walk back to their hated rival and the team that drafted Revis in 2007. Revis might come out of it looking like a mercenary, but he sure is a rich one and no one can question Revis' ability to maximize his leverage.
The Patriots used Revis' rare ability to its fullest, having him shut down top opposing receivers from the regular season all the way to the Lombardi Trophy. Revis' impact for the Pats was undeniable and now, with the Pats also declining to pick up Brandon Browner's option, Bill Belichick must overhaul his outside cornerbacks for the second time in as many seasons.
Revis and Browner had the critical strength of playing tight man-to-man coverage, an absolute necessity in today's NFL. While Browner's return remains a possibility, the lack of size at cornerback could be a big problem.
The cupboard is not entirely empty. Safety Devin McCourty, the leader of the secondary, returned to the team with a five-year extension. Veteran Kyle Arrington was benched in the Super Bowl, but he's one of the best slot corners in the NFL and he effectively shut down T.Y. Hilton in the AFC Championship Game, albeit with over-the-top help from McCourty.
Malcolm Butler is a household name now after his Super Bowl-clinching interception, but he's still fairly unproven, though his ball skills are undeniable. With a full season under his belt, Butler could blossom into a legitimate NFL starter. There's more pressure on Butler to develop now.
Alfonzo Dennard showed promise in his first two seasons and is a feisty outside corner despite his lack of size, but he struggled when they tried to move him to the slot in 2014 and eventually ended up in Injured Reserve. Logan Ryan also showed promise as a rookie in 2013, but was often picked on this past season and was inconsistent at best.
Despite their flaws, having four experienced cornerbacks means the Pats don't have to panic. Still, the position cannot be called a strength and there must be additions for the Patriots to effectively matchup with wide receiver groups within the AFC East like the Jets' new tandem of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.
There's no one exciting left on the corner market, so the Pats will have to resort to their tried and true methodology of taking a shot on undervalued veterans with a rookie draft pick or two sprinkled in. Bringing back Browner might make the most sense, otherwise names like Antonio Cromartie and Jimmy Wilson are others who might be of interest.
In 2014 the Pats had the perfect personnel to execute the perfect scheme in their secondary. They won't have that luxury in 2015, but with a talented front seven, an improved pass rush up front could make up the difference without Revis. Dominique Easley, last year’s first-round pick out of Florida, could be one name to add a spark to the Pats up front.
Despite their personnel losses over the years, Bill Belichick has never blinked from his philosophy of building a 53-man roster that is strong from the top to the bottom. For Belichick, it's about building a team, not collecting talent, but replacing an All-Pro standout like Revis might just be the biggest test of that philosophy yet.