At stake is a precious $12 million in Patriots salary cap space this coming season, a season with the potential for everything to be won or another year of Tom Brady's prime to be lost. It's a season for Revis' future earning potential to hang on the line: he maintains his elite form, at age 29 by the fall, and he gets a big, multi-year deal from someone, somewhere. If not, there's no guarantee for anything.
There aren't two more competitive people in the NFL than Bill Belichick and Darrelle Revis, something both understands during their back-and-forth battles across the Pats-Jets rivalry. These aren't publicly jovial people. They live to win.
Now in a time when both are a bit desperate, they come together, nothing certain, nothing promised.
New England had to find a lockdown corner after Aqib Talib proved too expensive and jumped to rival Denver (the Broncos gave him $26 million guaranteed in an overall six-year, $57 million deal). And after Tampa deemed Revis overpriced himself (the Bucs owed him $16 million this season), the Aliquippa, Pa. native needed a landing spot to showcase his skills.
So it's a one-year deal, put up or move on. Everyone has to make this work. Everyone is invested in the belief that the old Revis Island game still lives in a guy approaching 30 with a surgically repaired left knee, the kind of trend lines that don't bode well for this position.
Belichick has never shied away from rolling the dice. He's famous for working the NFL scrap heap. There was aging malcontent Corey Dillon, who rushed for 541 yards and two touchdowns for Cincinnati in 2003 and looked done. He went to Foxborough and rushed for 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2004.
There was pouting star Randy Moss who many thought was finished – physically and effort-wise after he delivered just three touchdowns for Oakland in 2006. He caught 23 for New England in 2007.
The list goes on and on. This is different though.
Revis was a Pro Bowler last season despite coming back from ACL surgery that played a part in ending his run with the New York Jets. He again was so dominant that quarterbacks didn't throw the ball his way. It changes the entire way a secondary can operate even if it leaves him with impressively unimpressive stats: just 11 passes defended, just two interceptions in 2013.
As a result, he comes with the kind of serious price tag many of the others didn't. There's no questioning his heart or temperament or will to win. And that comes at a cost too. Even the less successful Belichick moves – Albert Haynesworth or Ochocinco – were usually cheap or in exchange for a late-round draft pick. When they blew up, the damage was minimal.
Not now, not with Revis. The Pats had an estimated $19 million in cap space on Wednesday. That's now just $7 million. They've never had a cornerback make this much (Revis will be the highest paid in the league). It may require restructuring of other deals, most notably defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, to fill other needs. So this is a major, major move for Belichick, who tends to throw millions around like manhole covers.
There was almost no other option, though. Revis may not be enough to get New England past Denver. The Pats will take their chances though. The idea of trying to win another matchup with the Super Bowl on the line without a cover man the quality of Revis was unfathomable.
New England still needs to improve its pass rush around Chandler Jones. It still needs wide receivers, especially with the prospect of Julian Edelman leaving via free agency. With so little cap room, that will have to come, it seems, via the draft, development or finding a gem in the rough.
That's Step 2. This was Priority 1. A day after Talib bailed, New England may have upgraded at the position, both in skill and durability, while not boxing themselves in long-term with salary cap problems that Denver took on.
The future is always on the mind of this franchise, it's how it has put together 13 consecutive winning seasons, reached five Super Bowls and won three. Some Pats fans curse the perceived lack of urgency. Yet it's New England that is always there deep into January, knocking on the door.
So here's Belichick betting he can get one more great season out of one of the best that's ever played the position. That's all. He doesn't need two. He can count on a motivated veteran in a contract year. He can enjoy trotting Rex Ryan's favorite player out against him twice next season. And he can hope he has enough for another title.
And here is Revis, saying that he can deliver as always while taking a run at that elusive Super Bowl. He's so confident in himself he'll eschew long-term money for the opportunity to prove it and then cash in as the salary cap increases in 2015.
Once bitter rivals, they all need each other now. And they all need this to work and work well … or else.