For all the speculation about the future of New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, one simple question tends to be overlooked too often: We don't know if he'll ever be the same after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in September. It might be more fun to ponder the possibility that he'll be traded to somewhere like San Francisco. It might make for more interesting debate the longer the Jets ruminate about whether to keep him. But it makes sense to keep things real. Too many people are getting far too ahead of themselves on this story.
In some ways, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson deserves some blame for this. When he shredded his left knee in Week 16 of the 2011 season, it seemed preposterous to think he would even be ready for this past season. Instead, Peterson nearly broke the NFL's single-season rushing record by rambling for 2,097 yards. He did all that while also suffering through a sports hernia in the second half of the year.
It says here that Revis will not be this year's Peterson. He surely will work his butt off to rehabilitate his surgically repaired knee (and he's already reportedly ahead of schedule). He will also give the Jets -- or whomever he might be playing for -- a welcome presence once he's cleared to play later this year. What he's not going to do is walk onto an NFL field and dominate receivers the same way he has for most of the past six seasons. The odds that he'll be that amazing so quickly don't jive with basic logic.
It's hard enough for running backs to do what Peterson did in returning from an ACL injury, simply because they take shots every time they touch a football. Cornerback is easily a tougher position for recovering from a blown-out knee. At the very least, Peterson knows where he's going and how to protect himself with the ball in his hands. Revis is at the mercy of receivers who will be looking to test him week in and week out. His confidence and effectiveness aren't going to be nearly as high as we're used to seeing.
That's one reason all this talk about where he'll end up sounds so premature. No team in its right mind would be willing to gamble on a player at that position -- particularly one who reportedly is looking for a long-term deal worth $16 million annually -- without feeling extremely certain that it was mitigating the risk. The 49ers might have a serious need to improve their cornerback situation, but that doesn't mean they have to surrender significant draft picks just because Revis is a big name. The uncertainty of his comeback already has to be the major barrier to any kind of deal getting done this offseason.
As much heat as the Jets have taken for thinking about trading their best player, their stance on this also makes complete sense. New general manager John Idzik owes nothing to Revis and has to think seriously about the overall well-being of his team. The Jets don't want to be stuck with a star who's not likely to overwhelm anybody with his performance next season. Their best-case scenario is to find somebody desperate enough to buy into the reputation of Revis instead of the reality that he might need at least two years to regain a Pro Bowl standard of play.
It's not as if there are many case studies out there for teams to consider when contemplating a move for someone in Revis' predicament. The last cornerback this good to tear up his knee in his prime was former Pittsburgh Steelers star Rod Woodson. Like Revis, he could lock down the best receivers of his day and make it look easy in the process. Woodson was also never the same player, even though he played in Super Bowl XXX less than six months after tearing an ACL in the Steelers' 1995 season opener.
Woodson spent one more season in Pittsburgh before disappointing in San Francisco in 1997. People may remember him as a Pro Bowl safety in Baltimore and Oakland, but Woodson also made that transition because his best days as a cornerback were behind him. Granted, he was older than Revis at the time of his setback -- Woodson was in his ninth season; Revis is in his sixth -- but the point shouldn't be lost. If Woodson's game could slide after such a traumatic injury, the same thing can happen to Revis.
Revis also isn't helping matters by continually talking as if he had some control over this process. He has griped about the Jets' not being more forthcoming about their plans for him, and he recently endorsed the notion of playing for the 49ers while doing an online interview with Seattle Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson. The more Revis has talked, the more he sounds like a man who believes he can find a nice landing place if he makes enough noise. But it doesn't work that way in the NFL. Teams in the position the Jets now hold are going to do exactly what they want, regardless of how it makes a four-time Pro Bowler feel.
Revis would be better suited if he kept quiet and focused on his rehabilitation. This is going to play out in the best fashion for the Jets, mainly because they hold all the cards. You can bet team owner Woody Johnson remembers how Revis held out to gain a four-year, $32 million contract prior to the 2010 season -- with three years remaining on his deal at the time -- then threatened to do it again last offseason. This is how leverage works. It sucks when you're on the wrong end of it.
It's even less fun when a player has to hope teams remember what he was instead of being motivated by what he can still be. At this point, that is exactly where Revis sits. He'd be wise to remember that the next time he wants to talk about how poorly the Jets are treating him or how nice it would be to play for a true Super Bowl contender on the other side the country. The real story here is whether he's still as good as advertised. Unfortunately for him, the answer to that question remains a long way off.