(Photo courtesy of New England Patriots)
by Ron Borges
Talk of Fame Network
For a team obsessed with creating its own definition of “value,” March 9 is New England Patriot management’s Super Bowl. That’s the day it must decide if there is $40 million worth of “value” in the three key players in their Super Bowl secondary.
That $40 million represents the relative cost to retain potential free-agent cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Devin McCourty (if New England exercises its $25 million option on Revis to prevent him from entering free agency) and to employee cornerback Brandon Browner for another season. Put a different way, can the Patriots afford to tie up roughly 27.9% of the new $143.2 million salary cap in three players?
Traditionally, that’s not how Bill Belichick operates, yet he’s faced with a difficult dilemma: Coming off a Super Bowl victory, 50% of his secondary may be in position to walk on March 10. There will be many suitors unless New England bites the bullet and exercises that option on Revis, as well as pay Browner a $2 million roster bonus and fight for McCourty on the open market.
Earlier this season, Patriots’ president Jonathan Kraft called that $25 million option on Revis a “placeholder.” Sources close to Revis say he called it “salary.” Therein lies a problem.
Revis is willing to negotiate a long-term deal, but only if it’s in excess of Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden, who average around $14M a year. That would probably require a four-year contract worth more than $64 million because his contract in Tampa averaged $16 million and he wants a raise. In other words, when he negotiates a contract, management isn’t the only businessman at the table.
McCourty, meanwhile, is on record saying he’d prefer to stay in New England. The team believes it can sign him to a team-friendly deal, which is another way of saying “below market value.” But the safety market has swelled the past two years with Seattle’s Earl Thomas averaging $10 million a year, with $25.7 million in guarantees off the top, and McCourty’s twin brother, Jason, paid an average of $8.6 million, with $17 million in guarantees. If McCourty gets on the open market he may be surprised what he finds there.
If they play things right, Revis and McCourty have considerable leverage. On the open market each would be the No. 1 free agent at his position and traditionally those guys get paid and in a hurry. The Patriots could be the ones paying them if they choose, but if it will cost an average of, say, $9 million for McCourty and $16 million for Revis.
Is that their definition of “value?” Only time will tell, but, in the end, that’s what it will come down to for both sides.
If the Patriots have decided Revis’ market will top out at $14 million a year … and he disagrees … history says he will bet on himself, as he always has. If New England senses it is more around $16 million … but not sure where … it has two choices: It can let him test the market and rely on a gentleman’s agreement to give the Patriots a chance to match, or set the market and be done with it.
Each day that passes, it seems less likely the Patriots will break with their business model and set the market for Revis. The danger there is that smart teams making big-money offers make them contingent on not being shopped around. That’s exactly how New England lost Adam Vinatieri to the Colts and Wes Welker to the Broncos.
Are the Patriots willing to run the risk of losing the best corner in football and the cornerstone of their first Super Bowl champion defense in a decade? Time will tell, but if history is an indicator, Bill Belichick bets on himself, just like Darrelle Revis does, and that could be a problem for both.