Commentary

Darrelle who? Jets change the subject

Week 1 of camp was full of happy talk, but the team's best player is still MIA

Updated: August 8, 2010, 8:29 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- In a town known for its apples, everything is just peachy. Or so the New York Jets want you to believe.

Perhaps by design, they have done a masterful job of shifting the focus from the biggest issue surrounding the team -- Darrelle Revis' holdout. Let's recount the first week of camp:

Overshadowing the Revis-related fallout, Jets coach Rex Ryan has emerged as the star, talking big (he told everybody he sees a Super Bowl in his crystal ball) and writing big (he scribbled "Soon to be champs" on an ESPN banner).

In between those headline-making moments, you've heard about "Hard Knocks," LaDainian Tomlinson's rejuvenation, Antonio Cromartie's fresh start, "Hard Knocks," Santonio Holmes' fresh start, Mark Sanchez's maturity and "Hard Knocks."

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER/US PresswireMark Sanchez's leadership was one of the early storylines in camp.

The Jets are acting as if they've actually won something, basking in the glow of their unprecedented media coverage. We're all soaking it up because … well, you can't get enough of Rex and the boys, right? We're all suckers for a tabloid headline. Thank you, Joe Namath.

The Jets are loving all the publicity because: (a) They crave the attention, and (b) it takes Revis off the front burner. Like a campaigning politician trying to distance himself from a negative issue, they've managed to change the headline.

But let's not lose sight of the news:

The Jets open the preseason in eight days, a Monday night affair against the New York Giants, and their best player is so ticked off with his contract situation that he's willing to get slapped with a $16,000-a-day fine to get what he wants -- a new contract.

A big, big, new contract.

Ryan & Co. can talk endlessly about how the Jets' defense is good enough to survive without Revis, but no one is taking that seriously. Ryan's defense is based on cornerback play, elite athletes shutting down wide receivers with man-to-man coverage. Everything is predicated on that.

If the corners can't lock down their men, it means using an extra defender in coverage. That means removing a player from the blitz package. That means a less ferocious pass rush. And that means trouble.

Cromartie is having a terrific camp, but he's no Revis. Then again, who is? But that's the point. Revis is a special player, the kind of player who enables teams to dream about the Super Bowl. The Jets would have a good defense without Revis, just not a great one.

It's still too early to panic, but it's getting close to that time. Ideally, you'd like Revis to play in the third preseason game, traditionally the week when the starters get the most work. The Jets will play Aug. 27 against the Washington Redskins. To get him into camp in time to practice for that game, they'd have to start serious negotiations during the next week or so.

If Revis isn't on the field for that game, it will be fair to start questioning how it will impact the regular season. For a team that intends to reach the Super Bowl -- just listen to it -- this should be a major concern.

From all indications, the two sides remain far apart. The Jets say the sticking point is "total compensation," but what does that really mean? Sounds like contractspeak. Revis wants to be the highest-paid cornerback (about $16 million per year) with a substantial chunk in signing bonus.

Jets owner Woody Johnson told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio last week that it will be difficult to structure a deal that makes Revis the highest-paid corner and that Revis will have to be flexible. That's true, but the Jets must do the same. If Johnson isn't willing to dole out an eight-figure signing bonus, all the talk from the Jets about Revis' greatness is just lip service.

So far, this is a lovefest holdout, with the Jets refusing to condemn Revis even though he's in violation of his contract. It's almost as if they're afraid to say anything that might inflame Revis' agents. So the Jets are making nice, with Ryan lavishing praise upon his absent star. Revis might be the most complimented holdout in history.

Again, that is all smoke and mirrors. The real issue is that the best player on the best team (in their minds) is nowhere to be found.

How do you like them apples?

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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