The Jets didn’t want to do it, but Darrelle Revis had to be traded.
He is — or, rather, was — a once-in-a-generation Jet, the kind of player grandfathers will one day tell their grandchildren they saw play in person. But in the NFL today, players like Revis don’t retire with the teams that drafted them. The brutal reality of Sunday’s trade is that the Jets made the right decision in dealing Revis. They had no other choice.
The deal to send Revis to Tampa Bay wasn’t made with this year in mind, but with the future squarely in focus. After this season, Revis was likely to opt out of the contract extension he signed in 2010, a deal that came to be after a prolonged holdout caused him to miss all of training camp and the entirety of preseason. It was the second holdout of his career and every indication points to Revis wanting more money and more years after this point.
The six years and $96 million the Bucs gave him was money the Jets couldn’t commit to, given their salary-cap restrictions.
This is, after all, a team still doing its best to clean up from the past few years when big names were signed to even bigger contracts. The team was geared toward the few at the top of the salary pecking order, with names like D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, David Harris, Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie and Mark Sanchez taking up the vast bulk of the salary cap. Those salary hits tipped the scales to a top-heavy team that lacked depth and young talent, both traits especially noticeable last year during their struggles to achieve a 6-10 record. Signing Revis to a long-term deal would only complicate the rebuilding process more, something new general manager John Idzik clearly grasped as soon as he was hired to begin cleaning up.
The Jets and their fans in particular are currently paying the price for the “buy-now” mentality that marked their franchise in 2009 and again in 2010 when they made consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances. The Jets loaded up on players entering their prime, trading away draft picks and forging away the future. Now the core of that team is still in New York but the complements around them are gone, with the Jets unwilling or unable to sign that personnel because of their other contract commitments.
Getting something in exchange for Revis, a player likely gone after this season, is a painful first step in righting that failed mentality.
The idea of trading away Revis is a tough one, especially for Jets fans, who deserve the right to see the star player retire as a Jet and take his place in the Ring of Honor. It was the only way, however, to ensure their team wins again sooner rather than later.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.