It is sometimes said that how a football team handles sudden change defines its greatness. The complexion of a game can swing on one play unless a group of poised and mentally tough players is able to overcome it.
That has been one of the hallmarks of the New England Patriots' on-field success in Bill Belichick's 15-year tenure as head coach, and as we've seen in a 20-hour span from late Tuesday night into Wednesday night, sudden change extends to free agency as well.
The Patriots masterfully aced the test in this area.
When considering how the team and cornerback Darrelle Revis came together on a one-year, $12 million deal, it is tempting to think Belichick had this one up his hoodie sleeve all along. He has, after all, shown a knack for thinking a few steps ahead of the opposition over the years.
But that's too simple of an explanation and overlooks how many things had to fall into place for Revis-to-the-Patriots to come to fruition. Truly, this was a case of all the stars aligning to produce an unprecedented opportunity to land one of the NFL's premier defensive players.
Consider that ...
Another team had to blow away free agent cornerback Aqib Talib with an offer because the Patriots planned to be competitive to retain him within what they felt was reasonable. The Denver Broncos went above and beyond.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, under a new general manager/head coaching regime, had to come to the conclusion that Revis wasn't going to be on their roster.
That was just the first step.
The next was seeing if there would be a willing trade partner for Revis among 31 other teams. There wasn't, in part because Revis wasn't willing to restructure his $16 million-per-year salary. So the Bucs released him.
Then it came down to what the open market would bear for Revis and what was truly important to him at this time. Long-term deal? Short-term? Another $16 million-per-year deal?
From a pure dollars standpoint, could the Patriots be competitive?
And even if the Patriots were in the mix, would Revis really be interested in coming to New England to play for a coach he dubbed a "jerk" while playing a word-association game on "SportsCenter"?
Finally, could the Patriots absorb the significant salary-cap charge?
It's almost like the X's and O's in a football playbook for a play with a high degree of difficulty -- you draw them up and it might look good on paper, but it won't work unless every little thing is accounted for and every player follows through on his responsibility. The margin for error is slim.
In this case, the end result was made even more stunning by the sudden change that preceded it.
Talib's deal in Denver had to be a shocker to many. Sure, every team knows it takes only one club to snatch a player away in an open-market situation, but it's still stunning when it actually happens at the level it did for Talib, an exceptionally talented player whose injury history can't be overlooked.
Yet the Patriots, as has been their trademark on the field, embraced the sudden change and ultimately came out better for it.
The part that might be easy for some to overlook is how the team's sound salary cap management put them in position to pounce on the unique opportunity. That has been a source of pride from the desk of Bill Belichick to the numbers-crunching team over the years, and is a huge part of Revis Island relocating to New England.
There are some teams that obviously would have loved to be in the bidding for Revis but couldn't because they either didn't have the salary cap space, or the moves they'd have to make to create it would have gutted significant parts of their rosters. It's why the "cap is crap" argument is flawed. Yes, the cap can always be manipulated, but it's also a real marker that can limit a team's ability to move swiftly and capitalize when a player such as Revis becomes available.
This isn't to say the Patriots always make the right decisions, a $7.5 million charge on the cap for Aaron Hernandez reminds us of that. In fact, in recent weeks, we've pointed out some of the team's recent free-agent miscues. No team gets it right all the time, and if Revis runs into some injury issues, the second-guessers probably will be out in full force questioning the quality of depth on the roster because $12 million is tied up in one player.
But at this time, most seem to be in agreement that landing Revis is a coup, the Patriots' ability to handle sudden change a masterful stroke.