By Judy Battista | Published Jan. 29, 2015
PHOENIX -- It was less than a year ago, and Darrelle Revis was weighing his options. He had been released after one season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and in the frenzied first days of free agency, teams were scrambling in pursuit of one of the league's few true shutdown cornerbacks.
Since being picked by the New York Jets in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft, Revis had carved out an island, not only as perhaps the best cover corner in the NFL, but also as one who would chase every dollar. He had assumed the role of a mercenary, albeit a highly skilled one. Revis became known almost as much for his holdouts and restructuring demands -- of which there were so many that Jets owner Woody Johnson tired of him and ordered he be traded -- as for his ability to virtually eliminate the opponent's best receivers from the game plan every week.
Advising Revis last year were his uncle, former defensive tackle Sean Gilbert (who wants to be the next head of the players' union, and who famously missed the entire 1997 season in a contract dispute), and his friend and mentor, Ty Law (the former Patriots cornerback who also hails from the small, tough neighborhoods of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania). Law had known Revis since the latter was a boy of 5 or 6. Revis had fallen in love with football watching the Dallas Cowboys of Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, but Law and Gilbert have acted as his football confidantes. And Gilbert, in particular, has long been credited with -- or faulted for, depending on who's doing the analyzing -- shaping Revis' cold-blooded financial strategy.
For this decision, Law and Gilbert were in agreement, even though they came at it from opposite experiences. Gilbert was the third overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft, but in the 11 seasons he played for four different teams, he never made it to the postseason. Law was the Patriots' first-round pick in 1995, and he won three championships with them before deciding to pursue big-ticket contracts in his career's final years.
The Patriots were offering Revis $12 million for 2014 -- a figure so reasonable that Johnson recently said he would have gone after the star cornerback again, had he known he could have gotten him for that -- and a whopping $20 million option for 2015 that nobody expected New England to pay, making it essentially a one-year deal. There were other, longer-term offers. But the choice was clear.
"The only reason Darrelle signed with the Patriots was because he was chasing a championship," Law said this week. "He has all the accolades and all the money he's ever going to need. The deal he signed was to get a championship, and he felt the Patriots were the best route to go."
"Yes, he has been a hired gun. This is a business. He did the right thing as a businessman. Sean was a big help, along with myself, to make him realize that. No matter how much money you have, you'll always feel like something is missing. That was my message to him when he was making his decision. I compare Darrelle's career right now to that of Champ Bailey. Everybody knows how great Champ was, but the one thing he didn't get to do was display his talent (when he was still in his prime) on the big stage."
On Sunday, in his eighth season, Revis finally will enjoy the opportunity that escaped Bailey -- and there is little question that the cornerback's decision bolstered the Patriots' Super Bowl credentials as much as the Patriots bolstered him.
Bill Belichick has never had a corner of Revis' equal. Pairing him with Brandon Browner, who was also signed during the spring, and having Devin McCourty at free safety -- Revis said he is the best one in the league -- has contributed to the defense's rankings in scoring (eighth) and yards allowed (13th), the latter figure marking the team's best effort since 2009.
Revis, who was voted first-team All-Pro for the fourth time in 2014, was targeted 77 times and allowed 37 receptions, giving up just two touchdowns all season. Opponents had a passer rating of 65.3 when throwing at Revis. His career opponent passer rating of 61 in the regular season is 20th-lowest among all defenders since the statistic was first kept in 1995 -- and it ranks third among active defenders.
I've never been against a better corner in bump coverage at the line of scrimmage. He's amazing. Brandon Marshall
Still, it has been a long slog -- through holdouts, knee surgery, a trade, a release and three teams -- for Revis to finally reach this point. There is a sense that a strong performance in a winning effort at Super Bowl XLIX would, as Law put it, "make the legend real." At Media Day, Revis admitted that during his eight seasons, he had doubts about whether he would ever get to a Super Bowl to validate his decision-making. This week, he said it is still surreal to him that he is here.
"That was the No. 1 goal for me, just winning a Super Bowl," Revis said. "Every year, that's what we play for. You know, I had a bump in the road, having an ACL injury. That kind of twisted my mind up a little bit, because it was more so me focusing on my health. Once I focused on my health to make sure I could get back where I need to be and playing at a high level, I was confident and determined. Just focus and get with the right team, and that's what I did."