There is nothing better in sports than winning the championship; it's the reason the game is played and why we all love it so much. The one negative of winning it all- the shortened offseason. The Patriots are on the clock to resolve the Darrelle Revis situation, and that isn't the only big contract issue they're tackling. Vince Wilfork, who was ready to walk last year after being asked to take a paycut, may be facing the same fate again. Linebacker Jerod Mayo, who has missed 20 games to injury over the last two years, also needs to have his contract reduced. Lastly, the Patriots have to work out a contract with Devin McCourty, their underrated ball-hawking free safety who formed a strong chemistry with Revis in 2014.
The key to the offseason is keeping Darrelle Revis in New England, but he needs to be re-signed at a lower cap number. It makes sense to give Revis a deal that will pay him as the top cornerback, but tying up $25 million dollars in cap space is going to hinder the rest of the contracts New England has to take care of. Revis should be looking at a four year, $60 million dollar deal with about $30 million in guaranteed cash. Trying to short change a great player/smart businessman like Revis is just foolish, so the best thing to do is actually give him what he is worth and be done with it. His agents and business team have NOT been leaking his demands like when he was with the Jets, and the quieter it is the better because that typically leads to a deal.
When Revis was 27, he didn't want a long-term deal because he knew if he was free every offseason, he was going to demand top dollar. Now as a 30-year old (when the season begins) Super Bowl Champion who's torn his ACL and seen what it's like to play for a great team, average team, and horrible team, he knows that money is important but not the end-all, be-all. Revis may be 30 (in July), but there are three players who get paid beyond that age in the NFL- quarterbacks, kickers, and first ballot Hall-of-Famers. Revis is a Hall of Fame player, and last year he proved that assuming health, he'll remain one of the top five man-to-man cornerbacks in football for the next four years. Revis is smart enough to understand this and the Patriots are smart enough not to low-ball him.
If they don't come to an agreement by March 10, then New England has to keep him at the current salary and contract because if they lose him, they are back to the very inconsistent defense we saw from 2008-2012. Keeping Revis is not only the key to the Patriots offseason; it's the biggest negotiation in all of football because if he stays, New England remains the best team in football. If he leaves, New England drops from elite to good.
The Revis deal is clearly the top priority, but there are two more contracts that need to be dealt with if the Patriots expect to sign their own free agents and fill holes in free agency. Jerod Mayo is the worst contract the Patriots possess, worse than Revis, and they need to sit down and hammer out an agreement. Mayo has a cap hit of $10,287,500, which is a ridiculous salary for a linebacker that has played 12 games in total over the past two years. Mayo is a talented player when healthy and he is a part of the Patriots future if he remains upright, but the Patriots brass can't trust that a player who has had two major injuries in two years will return to what he was in 2012.
Mayo is not old (he turns 29 today actually; Happy Birthday, Jerod) but certain positions tend to have shorter shelf lives, and linebacker happens to be one. Here is how his contract breaks down- 2015: $6,250,000 salary, $3,600,000 bonus. If New England cuts him before June 2, 2015, they take a $10,500,000 cap hit, which drops to six million if he passes his physical. In 2016, his salary is $7,250,000 with a bonus of $2,400,000. If he is cut before June 2, 2016, the cap hit would be $2,400,000. In 2017, his salary is $9,187,000 but he has no bonus money, so there would be no cap hit if he was simply cut in 2017. Mayo heads into the 2015 season owed six million dollars in guaranteed bonus money for the rest of his deal, but beyond 2016, not a dime is guaranteed.
Considering that Mayo has three years left on his deal, the starting point for a restructured contract should be four years/$20 million with $10 million guaranteed. The Patriots can break up the bonus over THREE years and keep his salary between two-three million dollars over the next four years. Instead of being an albatross on the cap until 2017, Mayo will be paid what his true value is, about five million per year, and he still gets the signing bonus money he was allotted in his current deal. Basically the goal is to convince Mayo that adding a year and four million in guaranteed cash will help him and the team, which it ultimately will. If he and the team can't come to an agreement, there's a chance he's traded or the Patriots cut him and absorb the big cap penalty. Nobody wants that final result, so I'd be surprised if Mayo and the Patriots can't hash out a deal that works for both parties.
The next contract to work out is not going to be easy and could lead to a divorce between the Patriots and a longtime defensive stalwart. Vince Wilfork has been a great Patriot since 2004; helping them to two championships and providing excellent leadership from his nose tackle position. Leading up to the 2014 season, the Patriots and Wilfork were at an impasse because he wasn't worth the salary he was slotted for (11 million). The Patriots went to Wilfork and asked him to take a paycut, which he initially balked at. Most thought that Wilfork would move on to another team, but the Patriots were able to work out a deal that helped their bottom line in '14.
Unfortunately, the deal was backloaded and now Wilfork is on the books for almost nine million, which again is too much for a 33 year-old nose tackle that is clearly slowing down. Wilfork has a cap hit of $8,933,333, which would be feasible if the Patriots didn't have to pay a future Hall of Fame cornerback and a free safety amongst the top three in football. If the Patriots can't work out a new deal with Wilfork by the start of the league year, they'll most likely cut him and take the $433,333 cap charge. They have to do this before the league year starts because if they don't, cutting Wilfork will cost them just over seven million, a big difference from 430k. Because of the structure of the contract, the only way to possibly keep Wilfork is to pay him at least what he was owed in remaining signing bonuses. Wilfork is still owed $7,166,667 in bonus money, so the only way to do it is to throw more bonus money his way, add a bogus third year onto the new deal and pray that he is still good for two years.
A deal that makes sense would be three years/$10 million, eight million guaranteed; 2015 and 2016 would see Wilfork getting paid a bonus of $4 million and the salary would be just under one million. That would put Wilfork just under five million on the cap for '15 and '16, and one million on the cap for '17. Chances are Wilfork would never see the final year of the deal, but even if he did and he wasn't up to par, the Patriots could cut him with no cap penalty. So this is the deal- Wilfork either gets cut before the 2015 league year begins (March 10), or he tears up his deal and accepts a team friendly deal like I just discussed. Important to note- these guys, especially towards the end of their careers, could care less what they make in salary; it's all about guaranteed money, aka- the signing bonus.
If New England reduces the Revis cap hit by $10 million, the Mayo cap hit by five, and the Wilfork cap hit by five, three players alone will clear up $20 million dollars. These first three dominoes have to fall before the Patriots make an offer to free safety Devin McCourty, who could demand up to nine million dollars per year on the open market. McCourty will most likely receive a deal around five years/$40 million. If the Patriots can accomplish their first three goals, they should be able to take care of their top unrestricted free agents and fill any holes that aren't filled in the draft. If they can't, well, things are going to get VERY interesting.