The Patriots 2015 offseason started with a bunch of headlines, with the Patriots opting to not picking up a $20M roster option for CB Darrelle Revis. The Patriots could have easily tried everything they could to keep the 2014 team intact at any cost, but instead let one of their highest profile players walk and sign with a division rival to a lucrative contract. Two years later, that decision has validated by Revis' decline and his replacement having a breakout season for the Patriots.
The biggest reason the Patriots felt comfortable in letting Revis walk was the emergence of Malcolm Butler. At the time, Butler had already established folk hero status with a improbable interception to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Butler had joined the team that summer on a tryout basis after doing almost everything possible to unintentionally sabotage his football career, almost starting immediately with a 40-yard dash (conflicting reports on actual time if it was 4.4 or 4.54). Butler immediately turned heads in rookie minicamps and earned a contract with the team. Butler wasted no time in making himself known to the fans and coaching staff with an impressive camp and preseason that turned him from an afterthought to the last guy on the roster.
Even though it was only one season, the year that Revis and Butler shared on the Patriots was critical in the growth of one of the game's rising stars. Butler's strong camp impressed Revis and served to strengthen Butler's confidence. Butler played sparingly in 2014, although he did register 4 pass breakups in the limited amount of snaps he played. After Kyle Arrington struggled in the 2nd and early parts of the 3rd quarter, the Patriots sent the rookie in there. The Seahawks tested him once he came into the game and was up to the challenge. Butler's strong coverage allowed the Patriots to stop the Seahawks offense and allow the offense to turn a 10-point deficit into a 4-point lead with 2:02 to play. Butler did a phenomenal job on the final drive, breaking up the first two passes thrown his way before an unimaginable deflection off a batted pass put Seattle at the the 5 yard line. Two plays later, Butler would have his redemption with maybe the biggest swing in Super Bowl history for a single play.
After the Patriots let Revis go, I had a pretty good feeling that Butler had a good shot to replace Revis but he had another impressive camp to put a stranglehold on the #1 CB job. Butler's strong preseason actually had me wondering if he could ascend to a true #1 CB status in a two-part film review. Butler wound up being elected to the Pro Bowl in 2015 and along the way impressing great WRs such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown. Now we move on to 2016, where Butler has played arguably his best two games of the year. Butler's grade on Pro Football Focus were 95.0 and 92.0 against the Bengals and Steelers. Once again he's amongst the leaders in passes defensed, although he needs to work on turning interceptable passes into interceptions.
On the other side of the decision, Darrelle Revis' career has been on the decline. In 2015, it was slightly less noticeable but from the on-field tape he wasn't the elite shutdown CB that he was from 2008-2014. You can even argue he wasn't elite in 2014, although he wasn't too far behind if he wasn't. Revis is currently in the 2nd year of a 5-year, $70M deal that's really a 2/$39M deal in structure with a roster bonus due next March. I don't fault Revis for taking the contract, it's not his fault the Jets are stupid for offering that contract, but 2016 looks to be his last year in New York. In an interview, he admitted that his body is physically breaking down. With a roster option bonus of $2M, the Jets could just eat the $6M guaranteed salary for 2017 and look elsewhere to replace the aging CB.
The Patriots have made more "controversial" decisions in relations towards contracts than letting Revis go, but once again this points to how the Patriots are always willing to let a player go one year too early than one year too late. The Patriots wound up getting a 3rd round pick for letting Revis walk, which turned into DT Vincent Valentine, who looks to be a major contributor on the defensive front for the next few years. While Bill Belichick and the Patriots organization isn't 100% right, and you'll be hard-pressed to find one of the few times they were wrong, this is definitely a validation of why the Patriots continue to win even with players coming and going. The contractual discussions with Malcolm Butler are going to be very interesting in the offseason though.