Darrelle Revis would seem to be a perfect fit for one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest needs right now.
Ross Cockrell has been such a disaster this preseason that Mike Tomlin has declared an open competition for the team’s starting right cornerback spot between him and Coty Sensabaugh. Rookie Cam Sutton has barely practiced. The most impressive cornerback during camp has been Mike Hilton, an undrafted free agent who couldn’t cut it with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season.
But no, Revis should not fill Pittsburgh’s hole at cornerback. He should fill their hole at safety.
Great cornerbacks make the transition to safety relatively frequently. Ronnie Lott did it. Charles Woodson did more recently, as did former Steelers great Rod Woodson during his time with the team. Devin McCourty is the latest example, but history is littered with safeties who could no longer play cornerback.
Why couldn’t Revis do the same? He is not the same player athletically that he once was, but Revis never survived on talent alone. He was a remarkably intelligent coverage player who knew what routes his man was going to run and what to expect from the opposing quarterback. Those skills translate easily to free safety. Revis may not have the speed to cover high-end No. 1 receivers anymore, but he can certainly hang with tight ends and be a ballhawk in center field.
A ballhawk is exactly what the Steelers need right now. Their starting safeties, Sean Davis and Mike Mitchell, combined for only two interceptions last season. Revis has beaten that total by himself five times, and that’s with opponents actively trying to avoid him because they know how good he was.
Or, frankly, how good he still is. Revis has been counted out before. He was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers only one year after being traded there for a first round pick. He returned to his All Pro level with the New England Patriots a year later, as if nothing had ever happened.
Aren’t the circumstances of that revival fairly similar to what Revis would be stepping into in Pittsburgh? He’d be going from a dysfunctional organization in the Jets to one of the most stable in football with the Steelers. He’d be playing for his hometown team with the understanding that if he fails as he did last year, his career would legitimately be over. And it’s not as though the Steelers can get much worse in the secondary.
Revis doesn’t need to play every single snap. At his age, being part of a rotation makes more sense anyway. But the Steelers are kidding themselves if they honestly believe that Robert Golden or Jordan Dangerfield can give them more than one of the best defensive backs of all time.
The Steelers just don’t have anything to lose. They have a weak group of corners and safeties, one of which has to be expandable in the name of taking a chance on a hometown Hall of Famer who might still have some football left in him. If Revis can still play corner? Great, cut him loose there and let him fix a huge hole. Otherwise? History says he can be a useful safety.
Developing your own players is a sound strategy in general, but as the Steelers showed by trading for Vance McDonald, they are willing to bring in outside help when necessary.
The state of the secondary dictates that outside help is currently necessary. It’s a chance that the Steelers have to take. Their passing defense is not good enough to win the Super Bowl as it stands right now. Revis is the one player on the market who might be able to change that in 2017.