In early February, the Kansas City Chiefs released Darrelle Revis. The future Hall of Fame cornerback had a 2018 option for $10 million, and to anyone who’d seen him play last season, it was hardly a surprise. Neither was the fact that Revis, who turned 33 just four days ago, had decided to call it a career, even though he wasn’t talking that way at the end of the season.
But we’ll get to that later. When news of Revis’ retirement broke Wednesday, writers, fans and players rushed to write and tweet about every facet of the surefire Hall of Famer’s career, from his legendary cover ability — leading to the exceedingly-cool nickname, “Revis Island” — to his legendarily ruthless business acumen. Let’s take a moment to reflect on that.
When it came to business, no player, past or present, understood his leverage better than Revis, who practically morphed into Tony Soprano and turned his teams into Davey Scatino during negotiations. Few players have replicated this ruthlessness because few players have been as good.
Revis will go down as arguably the best corner of his generation, someone who routinely shut down every team’s No. 1 receiving option in a Deion Sanders sort of way, an absolute boon in an increasingly pass-oriented league. Revis and his agents at the time, Jonathan Feinsod and Neil Schwartz, knew it, and during the course of his 11-year NFL career, Revis used two holdouts and an abundance of special requests to bank approximately $125 million, most of which came from the New York Jets, the team that moved up to draft him 14th overall in 2007.
So long before last season, I knew that Revis was a businessman, someone who also seemed to have a decent amount of drama surrounding him. That seemed particularly true in 2016, his last year with the Jets, when he was roundly criticized for his declining play and increasing weight. When he signed with the Chiefs late last November, back when I was the Chiefs’ beat writer at The Kansas City Star, I was ready for anything — positive or negative.
The on-field results were fairly meh. Revis ended up playing 192 snaps in five games, accumulating a coverage success rate of 41 percent, according to Football Outsiders. And the season ended on a low, as Revis drew criticism from an immensely frustrated fanbase — which has seen far more playoff heartbreak than anyone outside the state of Missouri seems to realize — for a perceived lack of effort against the run in a 22-21 wild-card loss to the Tennessee Titans in which the Chiefs blew an 18-point second-half lead.
Internally, the Chiefs viewed Revis’ performance last year as simply OK. They weren’t overjoyed with his play, but they weren’t necessarily disappointed, either. When they signed him, it was a last-grasp attempt to upgrade an overmatched secondary on a surprisingly punchless defense, one that came with little cost (he only earned $352,000 last season) for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. When viewed through that prism, you can argue the signing was worth it.
However, when you consider what I saw and heard privately for those seven weeks Revis was a Chief, that characterization becomes even more palatable. Revis was a confident-but-demure player who — despite his unwillingness to sacrifice his body and consistently tackle — I was repeatedly told was generous with his time and more than willing to offer advice to younger players. There is even a quiet expectation within the organization that the knowledge and insight Revis brought in regards to game-prep could benefit the holdovers in 2018.
One of the players who repeatedly spoke highly of Revis (but happens to be gone now) was 26-year-old cornerback Terrance Mitchell II, who signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Cleveland Browns this offseason. Prior to Revis’ signing, Mitchell — a gambler with ball skills that teams liked to attack vertically — had lost his starting job and, after a rotation of others failed, found his way back into the starting lineup.
The Chiefs’ first game after Revis’ signing was against Buffalo, a game in which Revis would not play but Mitchell — who was on the cusp of earning his starting job back — likely would. Once Revis arrived, the first thing Mitchell did was ask Revis, a childhood idol, about his press technique. They went over the footwork together, right there in the locker room, for minutes, and Mitchell could hardly believe a star like Revis was even giving him the time of day.
“He told me all types of things, like what’s a good place to focus your eyes in press coverage,” Mitchell said after the season. “I had a pretty good game against the Bills, too.”
Mitchell said Revis was also helpful in the film room, where he was an ace at picking out the tendencies of teams and opposing players.
“He was like another coach out there, like Eric Berry, in a sense,” Mitchell said. “When I asked questions, he always answered them. And I asked him questions once or twice a day.”
Once the season came to a close, Revis spoke about weighing his options if the Chiefs didn’t pick up his option, albeit with a caveat — a realization he could no longer afford to miss training camp, as he had last season.
“Can I still play? Can I still contribute? For sure,” he told me privately at the time. “But you know what? You need training camp. I’ll say that. In my previous holdouts, I missed training camp, and that’s something when you look back, that’s something you need. Because that’s where you find your game, in addition to building team camaraderie and chemistry.”
Revis even talked about potentially moving to safety in 2018.
“Yeah, I am open to it,” Revis told me. “A lot of the greats have done it. The Rod Woodsons, the Charles Woodsons. I’m in that phase where, instead of starting, you come into the nickel and sub, and now maybe the conversation is, ‘Hey, do you want to cover tight ends, do you want to be a safety?’ For me, I can play the game, I can still contribute.”
Something along the way changed. Perhaps there weren’t many opportunities available. Perhaps Revis, who now fully understood the need to go through training camp, decided he didn’t want to go through that grind if that’s what it took to play at a level more commensurate with his standard. Or perhaps it’s something else; Revis didn’t give a reason in his retirement statement Wednesday, other than to say he’s excited about pursuing “new ventures in different industries.”
Yet, something Revis said to me privately when I last spoke to him, stuck. When he said he was still interested in playing next season, my eyes widened with surprise.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked, sincerely. “Why still play? You’re a Super Bowl champion. You’ve got your body. Still got your mind. Why not just hang it up?”
Revis looked at me and — in a moment that ended up telling me everything I needed to know, it turns out — started nodding his head.
“Great question,” he said, before citing his passion for the game as the primary reason for his refusal to ride off into the sunset. “Great, great, great question.”
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