By Sean Grogan
If head coach Rex Ryan, owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik had the opportunity to go back in time and alter the outcome of what would become Darrelle Revis' path to Tampa, would they? Probably not.
Though stuck in a present three-game losing streak, the 2013 New York Jets have been somewhat of a pleasant surprise. Literally picked as the worst team in the NFL in ESPN's power rankings, the Jets' 5-4 start was viewed as a surprise, and quite possibly even an accomplishment. The main reason for this was the Jets’ defense, particularly their young defensive line.
Enter Sheldon Richardson; the six-foot-three, 295-pound defensive tackle out of Missouri, who solidified the Jets’ young, and now elite, defensive front. While it is fellow rookie Dee Milner who bears, because of their shared position, the burden of "replacing Revis," it is Sheldon Richardson who allowed the Jets to move on.
It was with the 13th overall pick in this past April's draft, received from Tampa in exchange for Revis, that was used to select Richardson. At that time, the pick was surprising to many, as countless "experts" had envisioned the Jets replacing Revis with another cornerback with the ninth pick (which they did by selecting Milner), and then addressing one of the many holes on the offensive side of the ball with the 13th pick. Moreover, Sheldon Richardson was not even the top rated player at his position. Florida's Sharrif Floyd and Utah's Star Lotulelei were the alleged top-two defensive tackles in last year's draft class.
The Jets were right and the projections wrong, as Richardson has been an absolute beast, earning himself NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for the month of November. Paired with fellow first-round picks Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, Richardson is part of Gang Green's defensive front that is ranked first in the NFL against the run. In fact, the Jets have selected defensive linemen with their first round pick for the last three years in a row; an approach that is now paying dividends. This has resulted in an evolution of Rex Ryan's defense from a cornerback-driven unit to one that wins games in the trenches.
To be clear, nobody is taking anything away from the greatness of Darrelle Revis, and what he meant to the organization. But the NFL is a business, and things come down to dollars and cents. Revis' six-year deal with the Bucs pays him 16 million dollars annually, and Richardson's rookie deal is for four years at an annual rate of $2.5 million. The Jets are now in a much better position for salary cap purposes, which will allow them to add the talent that the offense desperately needs.
The Jets always seem to be under media scrutiny. Whether it be about “Tebowmania,” an ineffective starting quarterback — Geno Smith or Mark Sanchez or a guarantee made by the head coach, the organization constantly seems to be under fire. As far as the decision to deal away their superstar cornerback, the Jets made the right call.