Jets' Darrelle Revis has reached crossroad after 'embarrassing' year

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Darrelle Revis caught some people in the New York Jets' organization by surprise when he mentioned in an August radio interview that he'd be willing to move to safety in the future. General manager Mike Maccagnan downplayed it, saying it was "far down the road."

Guess what? The road wasn't that long and they've reached Exit 24.

Of all the reasons for the New York Jets' dramatic collapse in 2016, the most stunning -- the I-can't-believe-what-I'm-seeing development -- has been the sharp decline of Revis. He showed signs of slippage last season, but this year has been an outright fall. He went from the pedestal, high above the masses, to what Bill Parcells used to call a "JAG" player: Just another guy.

Just another cornerback.

Maybe Revis, 31, saw it coming. Maybe that's why he started dropping hints before the season about a position switch. The bigger questions are: How did he get to this point and where do the Jets go from here?

ESPN.com interviewed five experts -- two former defensive backs, two current talent evaluators and a former head coach -- and the consensus is that Revis' days as an elite corner are over. The opinions on whether he can make a successful transition to safety are mixed.

Some believe Revis has the body type, instincts and football IQ to play safety, a more cerebral position than cornerback, but others wonder if he can meet the physical demands -- i.e. a willingness to tackle. The most prevailing question is whether he has the desire to undertake a major change this late in his career.

"This is the next challenge in his life," said former NFL safety Rodney Harrison, an analyst for NBC Sports. "He doesn't want to go out being this Darrelle Revis. ... This has been a very embarrassing year for Darrelle, very embarrassing. These young guys, they're making fun and they think Darrelle Revis is such a bum where they can go out and beat him. Oh, man, come on, dude. That's going to be his motivation."

Revis attributes his fall off to his surgically repaired wrist, which he believes has limited his ability to play his trademark bump-and-run. He's playing more "off" coverage than ever, not a good mix with his skill set. He doesn't have the closing speed he once did -- he never was a burner -- and it puts him at a disadvantage against fast receivers.

He also has admitted to showing up to training camp out of shape, which may explain his struggles early in the year. The Jets were so concerned by his lack of conditioning they kept him out of the first preseason game. He vows to rededicate himself in the offseason; he says retirement isn't a consideration.

But safety? It's not an easy transition. It requires run support, head-on tackling, communication and recognition skills, the ability to defeat blocks and an innate feel for angles. A safety has pre-snap responsibilities -- i.e. making a call, relaying it to teammates and organizing the defense. He sees the game from the inside-out.

Conversely, a cornerback often plays on an island, not having to concern himself with those around him. Revis did it so well for nearly a decade that the "Revis Island" moniker was born.

"Darrelle is very smart and he's got a ton of experience," said Eric Mangini, his first NFL coach. "Even as a rookie, he understood the big picture. I don't think understanding the [safety] position would be a problem. I think he's a good candidate."

Mangini said Revis has "tremendous versatility," which would allow him to cover wide receivers in the slot and handle pass-catching tight ends. A safety with cornerback-like coverage skills has value in today's NFL.

Former Jets safety Victor Green, who played a little cornerback early in his career, believes Revis could make a good safety, depending on the scheme.

"To me, it's logical to make the transition if they play him in the slot or in passing situations or in a Cover-3 or Cover-2 scheme," Green said. "It wouldn't be advantageous to play him as a safety in an eight-man front. There's a lot of hitting there. That would be a difficult transition if he doesn't have the mentality for it."

Ideally, Revis would be a free safety, sitting back and reading the quarterback, but it's not as simple as that. There are "strong-safety-force" situations that would require him to play near the line of scrimmage, almost like a linebacker.

Technicalities aside, Harrison wonders if Revis has lost his fire. A "tell-tale sign," he said, occurred in Week 2, when Revis surrendered an 84-yard touchdown to the Buffalo Bills' Marquise Goodwin, a sprinter who tried to qualify for the Olympics. Afterward, Revis said he wasn't aware of Goodwin's track background, an admission that surprised Harrison, who called it a lack of preparation.

"He had so much success with the Patriots, and the motivation isn't there," Harrison said. "It's like he won a Super Bowl ring, made a lot of money and I don't know if I see that same Darrelle Revis that came in when he was a rookie. I don't see that same hunger from Darrelle.

"I have all the respect in the world for Darrelle. I think he's one of the greatest cornerbacks to play," he continued. "But the problem is this: When you relax as a football player and people see that on tape, they're going to take advantage of it because you've been so great for so long. They're laughing at you. They want to make a name off you. That's what you see. You see these wide receivers coming out more motivated and taking him deep."

An AFC scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Revis "has the ability" to make the transition to safety. "He's certainly strong enough. The question will be if he wants to do it."

A position switch would be a concession to his mortality as a cornerback. Hey, it happens in sports. Willie Mays was arguably the greatest center fielder in baseball history, but he started playing first base when he was 40 because his range was shot.

Revis wouldn't be the first star corner to change. Charles Woodson became a full-time safety at 36, lasting another four years. Rod Woodson did it at 34, playing another five years to polish his Hall of Fame credentials. But the successful conversions are few and far between.

"He has to let go of his ego and his pride," Harrison said of Revis. "This is going to be a big shock to his ego, moving from the best cornerback to now being a safety. Who knows if he can be an every-down safety? There's no guarantee.

"It's no automatic assumption that he's going to be able to make this move because even though he has football instincts, that's from the corner perspective," Harrison added. "When you're playing safety, it's a completely different game and who knows if they'll have enough patience to deal with moving him. It's a huge, huge adjustment."

It might not happen on the Jets' dime.

With a $15 million salary in 2017, Revis could be a cap casualty or be asked to take a pay cut before a $2 million roster bonus is due March 10. There's no chance the Jets will pay his entire salary. His contract includes a $6 million guarantee in 2017 -- a nice chunk of money, but probably not enough to preclude them from cutting him. The cost will be defrayed, based on offset language in his contract.

An AFC personnel director believes Revis could land "a moderate deal, perhaps with incentives" if he becomes a free agent. He speculated that Revis' former coaches would show the most interest because they know his mental makeup. One of them, Rex Ryan, just got fired by the Bills. Under Ryan, from 2009 to 2012, Revis was a transcendent player, a perennial Pro Bowl selection. Can he return to that level?

"No, no way, he doesn't have a chance to get back," Harrison said. "He was so good there's no way -- with injuries and age -- he can get back there. No way. There's no way he can do that. No. And that's OK. What you're supposed to do is you're supposed to adjust your game according to your body and your age. And he hasn't been able to do that."