By Maureen Mullen
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It's only June, so it's tough to really tell which NFL offseason moves will have the most impact on the league. All of it is pure guesswork. But it's safe to say that the Patriots are happy to see Darrelle Revis on their sidelines, for once.
The five-time Pro Bowler, who turns 29 on July 14, terrorized New England during his best years with the Jets, before an ACL injury limited him to just two games in 2012. He was then traded to Tampa Bay and spent the next year trying to find his rhythm in a tumultuous Greg Schiano-led locker room (which Revis has been quite vocal about). Even though he made yet another Pro Bowl and began to return to form, it wasn't the season he wanted it to be.
"Last year, it was a tough year," said Revis, who finished the 2013 with only two interceptions (which may have been the product of teams trying not to throw in his direction more than anything else). "When I played in Tampa Bay, it was tough coming off the ACL and everything. So it was a long year for me personally, just trying to recover.
"So now I'm ready to go, and I'm just trying to sit here and absorb everything in and just trying to enjoy my time and get ready for the season."
Truth is, the Pats have had difficulty finding and keeping a shutdown corner since they let Ty Law go after the 2004 season. (Asante Samuel, who could fit that description, left in free agency for Philadelphia following the 2007 season after five seasons in New England.) And they haven't won a Super Bowl since then.
Coincidence? Maybe. But their pass defense (which was 18th in the regular season last year, giving up an average of 239 yards per game) has often forced them to play soft zones, putting pressure on the front seven, as well as quarterback Tom Brady and the offense to roll up points. In the AFC Championship game against Denver this past January, the Broncos seemingly moved the ball at will on the Patriots, accumulating 507 total yards of offense on their way to a 26-16 win.
Following the departure of Aqib Talib to Denver, it was clear that the secondary needed help badly. So just hours after Revis was released by the Buccaneers, the Pats signed him to a one-year, $12 million deal (with a $20 million team option for 2015).
The signing, especially for the kind of money the Pats don't usually give out, signals an effort to rectify a huge issue as New England attempts to rebuild its defense, with Revis as the center piece along with fellow cornerback Brandon Browner (who'll return to the team after he serves his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy).
Revis, who said his knee now feels "great," is still getting to know his new team, his teammates and the playbook. Asked how good he thought the Pats' secondary could be, Revis chose his words carefully.
"I can't put a prediction right now. We're in the beginning stages," he said. "We've still got a lot of work to do. The good thing about it, we've still got time to get better. That's what we're trying to focus on. Getting better every day. When the preseason comes and all of that and the season comes, I think we'll be ready to go."
Revis, though, has the ability to not only improve the Pats defense, but also help their offense. Brady joked recently to SI's Peter King that he is already sick of throwing against Revis in practice, but that he may someday build a couple of hotels on Revis Island.
"Revis is just so smart and quick and obviously has a knack for playing good football," said wide receiver Danny Amendola. "So it's been great for our receiving corps and we're all getting better out there. So it's been fun."
A year ago, profootballfocus.com ranked the best cornerbacks from 2008-12. Revis was No. 1 with a rating of +80.7, nearly twice as good as No. 2 Charles Woodson at +43.8. This includes Revis missing nearly all of the 2012 season with his knee injury. PFF had Revis ranked as the 18th best overall player for 2013.
"Certainly he's a great player," said offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels. "We haven't gotten to the point where we've focused a whole lot of our attention on the other side of the ball in terms of who's doing what, do we want to stay away from him and throw it somewhere else. We're just kind of challenging everybody over there. He's going to make us better. But our secondary is really good and we've got a lot of players with a lot of experience in games that have played a lot of good football."
"With a guy like Revis, Browner, Dev [Devin McCourty], [Alfonzo] Dennard, Logan, all of them, these guys are instinctive guys," said wide receiver Julian Edelman. "They know football. If you don't stick to your fundamentals or your concepts or your coaching point or any of that, they're going to take advantage of it."
Revis can be a free agent after the season if the Patriots elect not to pick up the team option. That would be a big payday. But if Revis, fully healthy, can return to the form that made him one of the most highly regarded cornerbacks in the league, it'll be worth the investment.
"I'm on my career and my journey, and right now, I'm a New England Patriot. And that's that,'' he said. "I'm trying to do the best I can to get better as a Patriot and also help this team win."
For the Patriots, that's always the bottom line.
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Maureen Mullen has covered the Red Sox and Major League Baseball since 2002. Her work can also be read on Boston.com and in the Boston Globe, USA TODAY and several other traditional and new media outlets. She is the author of Diary of a Red Sox Season, 2007 with the legendary Johnny Pesky, and Yogi Was Up with a Guy on Third, conversations with 53 of the 64 living Hall of Famers.