Value is often a fluctuating concept within the NFL. While we can all agree that quarterback is the league’s most important, and therefore the most valuable, component on a 53-man roster the 32 teams take a wide variety of approaches to the value of the remaining parts.
Quarterbacks influence the game more than any of the other players, regardless of the offense that they are placed in. Elite passers can paper over almost any cracks and still drag a team into the playoffs. On the flipside, even the most talented rosters in the league struggle to contend against the better teams if they don’t have a viable quarterback.
For other positions the impact any single player can have is often dictated and limited by scheme. Darrelle Revis was the focal point of the Rex Ryan defense in New York as they built that system around him and he allowed them to do everything else they did in coverage.
The Bucs traded their first round pick a year ago and a conditional pick that became the 104th overall selection (early in the fourth round) this year for Revis, intending to do something similar in Tampa Bay. After a year of Revis getting back to full speed following a knee injury, the franchise cleaned house and a new regime came in with a completely different schematic approach to the game. Revis went from being a prized asset worth $16 million in the old defense to an overpriced luxury in Lovie Smith’s zone based scheme.
While it’s certainly true that a corner can have a huge impact in a Lovie Smith defense (see Tillman, Charles), Smith simply doesn’t value that impact at the dollar-figure Revis was due. He also expects to be able to approach a similar production level with other players, and knows he would, to a degree, be wasting the talents that make Revis so valuable in other schemes.
There’s no doubt that Revis could excel in the new Bucs defense. Last season — returning from a major knee injury and some way short of 100% — he was PFF’s top graded corner overall, in a scheme that ended up not dissimilar to the one that will be installed this offseason.
Unlike many top cover corners recently, Revis has always played the run well and has been a very physical presence. He is in many ways the perfect zone corner for that defense, but because the scheme is far less flexible than some man-coverage schemes it doesn’t value corners as highly.
The Jets would use Revis to track an opponent’s best receiver wherever he lined up. Teams were forced to sacrifice their best weapon in the passing game (which they hate doing) if they wanted to avoid throwing at Revis.
In a zone scheme it is far less likely that he would be tracking receivers, because depending on the coverage he will be passing the guy off to another zone anyway. If you want to avoid Revis in that scheme just diagnose the coverage and wait until the receiver running the route clears Revis’ zone.
The value placed on the impact of a corner in that type of scheme is significantly lower than the money Revis was due and so the Bucs quite correctly cut him loose. It isn’t that he couldn’t do it. It’s that they could get someone who could do it more or less as well for less than half the price, say the $6.5 million per year that they gave to Alterraun Verner.
Verner isn’t Revis in that he isn’t the kind of shutdown corner Revis can be in a scheme that employs a lot of man coverage. However, in a zone-heavy scheme he is a pretty close approximation. With both players playing a mix of man and zone in 2013 Verner actually allowed a lower percentage of targets into his coverage to be caught, allowed half as many touchdowns and broke up more than twice as many passes.
When you look at how often each was in coverage and thrown at, only Revis, Richard Sherman and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were in coverage for more snaps than Verner between each catch surrendered.
Verner excels in the kind of scheme that Lovie Smith will be employing in Tampa Bay and costs a fraction of the money that Revis was due. The difference between the two players within that scheme is negligible. Though he might not hold up if asked to lock down a receiver all day in man coverage, Verner is comfortable, aggressive and very capable.
Take this play against the Seahawks in Week 6:
The Seahawks try and convert a 3rd-and-3 by targeting Verner on a slant route intended for Golden Tate. Verner reads Tate’s route well and drives hard on the slant, arriving in time to break it up and force a punt. This was the second time in the game that the Seahawks went to that well and both times Verner rejected it with a pass defensed.
This wasn’t a rare occurrence either. No other corner broke up more passes than the 19 Verner was able to either pick off or get his hands to in defending them. Part of the job description for a corner in Lovie Smith’s defense is to make plays on the ball and that is an area where Verner might actually have the beating of Revis.
Value Right Now
When you consider the trade cost of acquiring Revis in the first place, cutting him after a season essentially serving as his rehab program seems crazy. Yet the new regime in Tampa Bay is right to ignore that aspect. All they are concerned about is the value of Revis right now within Lovie Smith’s defense. In that aspect Revis just isn’t worth the money that he is in another scheme, and for a fraction of the cost they were able to secure a player who can do the same kind of job.
Alterraun Verner isn’t close to the player Darrelle Revis is in the abstract, but within the specific scheme the Bucs are running in 2014 and beyond he is a near facsimile. It might seem like a cheap move, but the Bucs saved around $10 million a year without noticeably downgrading at the position within their defense. Like it or not, that’s smart.
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