NEW YORK -- Surprise, surprise, Woody Johnson made a monumental mistake the past offseason, when he allowed Darrelle Revis to sign with the New England Patriots. This is assuming, of course, that then-New York Jets general manager John Idzik relayed to the owner the message the team received from Revis' agents, once it was clear Tampa Bay would cut the cornerback just one season into his six-year, $96 million deal.
Revis had a wish list of four teams ranked in this order: 1. Jets; 2. Patriots; 3. Giants; 4. Broncos. A new Tampa Bay administration didn't want to pay Revis, despite the fact that the old administration had rehabbed his surgically repaired knee back to form, and the Buccaneers would have taken a late-round draft choice for the player -- something, anything -- to save face after they gave the Jets the first-round pick that would be Sheldon Richardson in the original trade.
Revis' agents told Rex Ryan and one other senior Jets official of their client's desire to return to New York, and Idzik and Johnson could have looked Red Auerbach and Bill Belichick smart in making that deal. Or they could have waited for Tampa Bay to release Revis and signed him for the same $12 million (give or take a nickel) the Patriots paid him to help Belichick and Tom Brady win their 12th AFC East title and fourth Super Bowl ring since Johnson purchased the team in 2000.
But they are the Jets, after all, and the Jets do what the Jets do. They never called Revis or his reps to make the reunion happen. Revis would end up meeting with Belichick and Patriots owner Bob Kraft in Palm Beach and joking with them about lining up at wide receiver in their two games against the Jets. Soon enough, Brady would rave about Revis' intelligence and instinct in practice, about how he treated every rep with postseason intensity.
Long after the Jets finished 4-12 and got everyone fired, Belichick found Revis near the Super Bowl victory stand in Glendale, Ariz.
"This is why you're here," Belichick shouted at him.
That was a lot for Revis to walk away from, and this is where Woody Johnson, of all people, came in to save the day. Johnson has made more than his fair share of mistakes in recent years -- Idzik's hiring foremost among the -- but after Revis signed with New England and helped them win it all, there was nothing the Jets owner could do to right that wrong.
Except what he did Tuesday night. Johnson fully guaranteed Revis $39 million over the first three years of a five-year, $70 million contract, which happens to be $39 million more than the owner would have had to guarantee the corner if Idzik threw Tampa Bay that late draft pick last year.
The contract with the Buccaneers didn't contain any guaranteed cash, and Johnson could have gone year-to-year on it. Of greater consequence, Johnson would have kept Revis away from the Belichicks and Bradys last season, and that might have been enough to separate the Belichicks and Bradys from Ring No. 4.
That was then, and Tuesday night was most definitely Tuesday night. Johnson could have backed away from Revis and a pair of agents with whom he always hated negotiating, Neil Schwartz and Jon Feinsod. He could have called it a day after selling his beaten-down fan base on Brandon Marshall, on the possibility of drafting Marcus Mariota and on the possibility that Todd Bowles can make a go of it on defense with the likes of Buster Skrine.
Johnson instead acted like a winning owner, with one of the biggest upsets of the new NFL year.
"I want to thank the Pats and Pats Nation for an unbelievable year," Revis tweeted. "NEW YORK I'm coming home."
Revis never wanted to leave New York in the first place. He planned to buy a place in Manhattan, and he hoped to go down as half the one-uniform lifer with the Jets that Derek Jeter was with the Yanks.
Johnson and Idzik had other ideas. They paid big money to the wrong people, dealt an injured Revis to Tampa Bay and brought Dimitri Patterson in last year, after the Patriots signed a healthy Revis, still in his prime and still able to cut the football field in half.
"Woody wants to be George Steinbrenner, and he's really more like the Wilpons," one league source close to the situation said when it became obvious Revis was no longer in the Jets' plans. "But at least the Wilpons stepped up for David Wright."
The Patriots were the ones who stepped up for Revis in offering what was really a one-year, $12 million deal. Kraft added the $20 million second year to put the annual average at $16 million, if only as a favor to the Glazers in Tampa Bay, the ones who believed the corner was a credible $16 million player.
None of that much matters anymore. Johnson saw his old coach, Ryan, land LeSean McCoy in Buffalo, and he saw his old GM, Mike Tannenbaum, land Ndamukong Suh in Miami. The Jets owner knew that as much as Revis loved New York, he loved money a little more. So Johnson fully guaranteed the free agent $16 million in Year 1, $17 million in Year 2 and $6 million of a $15 million salary in Year 3 to airlift Revis out of Foxborough. Johnson threw in a couple $11 million non-guaranteed wages in Years 4 and 5 for the hell of it.
Everyone knew Revis would go to the highest bidder, especially after he won his championship ring. His uncle and close adviser, Sean Gilbert, a former NFL player and current candidate for executive director of the players' union, needed to make a big score here as he approaches the upcoming election. Gilbert and Revis' agents can now say their man will earn no less than $123 million in his career -- $154 million if he plays through the life of this Jets contract. That's quarterback money.
Darrelle Revis isn't a quarterback. He just makes them miserable for a living.
"Darrelle is a great player," Johnson said the day he fired Idzik, before adding he'd "love Darrelle to come back."
The owner was only giving an honest answer to a direct question and didn't seem to be violating the spirit of the league's tampering rules. But even though that quote had nothing to do with Revis' decision to sign with the Jets, Belichick didn't get to be Belichick by letting these things slide.
Either way, Woody Johnson deserves credit for throwing his wallet at a terrible mistake. The owner couldn't take away the title Revis helped the Patriots win, so he did the next best thing.
He took away Revis, the rare superstar who wanted to be a lifelong Jet.