By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
After a brief one-year reunion with Darrelle Revis and the New York Jets, Antonio Cromartie was handed his walking papers today, just one season into the four-year $32 million contract he signed with the Jets in March of 2015. The team did not feel that he justified those numbers, so they sent him on his way to free agency, saving the team $8 million in salary cap space for the 2016 season.
Hoping to get the Cromartie that shined for the Jets in years past, and seemed to have a career resurgence with Arizona in 2014, the team brought him back in the fold for the 2015 season. Like the majority of his career, Antonio had an up and down season, finishing up with no interceptions for the first time since his rookie year with the Chargers.
Despite having a strong finish to the season, Cromartie had more than his share of head-scratching plays in 2015, and certainly did not live up to the expectations of his expensive price tag.
Over the course of his career, Antonio has accumulated 31 interceptions and 114 passes defensed, with 18 of those INT’s and 63 of the PD’s coming in his five seasons on the Jets.
This past season saw him collect 29 tackles and 12 passes defensed, but he was often overmatched by speedy receivers and finished the season ranked 103rd among 118 cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus.
Cromartie also filled in as a kick returner on 2015, returning 15 kicks for 377 yards and a 25.1 average per return. But that is simply not enough to justify one of the highest contracts on the team.
Following the announcement by the Jets, Cromartie released a statement on his Instagram account, in which he thanked the Jets for giving him another chance and expressed his heartache in losing his fellow defensive backs as teammates. He also sent out a sincere thank you to fans of the Jets, which included, “You guys are the best fans ever and thank you for sticking next to me through my tough times last season, you rock.”
First I would like to give thanks to my Lord and Savior because everything that I've been blessed with is because of you. Thank you again. Now I would like to thank the Jets Organization for bringing me back this past season. I had a lot of fun and I know my first half of the season didn't go well and I thank you guys for pushing and believing in me while keeping me on the field so I could finish strong. Today is a sad day for me not because of my release but the guys I became really close to in our DB room. @busterskrine @revisislandtwo4 @instant9 @mgilchr @therealmarcwill @dmilli27 @wavyy_25 @dbailey37 @dex_25 man y'all niggas were my brothers and I would do anything for y'all man. God bless y'all boys in the future and let God lead the way for you. To the Jets Nation, the most important people that make Sunday's so fun…thank you for welcoming me back. You guys are the best fans ever and thank you for sticking next to me through my tough times last season, you rock. Keep the excitement in the stands, because Coach Bowles will have the guys right this upcoming season. I Vow to be the person and player my Heavenly Father has asked me to be. God Bless You. Sorry @busterskrine I had to put this up lol.
With many great memories of what he has done for the team in year’s past, part of me is sad to see him go, but the Jets have some youth ready to compete for the position, and it was time to move on. Cromartie is just not the player he was for the Cardinals in 2014, nor is he the one that shut down opposing teams’ number-two receivers opposite Revis Island from 2010-2012. I left out 2013 because it was a season to forget for AlCroTraz.
Even more beneficial to the Jets than giving the young guys a chance to step up and saving money on an aging veteran at the cornerback spot, it also provides them with some much needed funds to possibly bring back some of their key free agents, such as DE Muhammad Wilkerson, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, NT Damon Harrison, ILB Erin Henderson, and HB’s Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell.
It remains to be seen what the Jets do at the starting cornerback spot across the field from Revis, but you have to figure Marcus Williams would be a prime candidate to fill that vacancy. Todd Bowles has said that it will be an open competition in training camp, but it would definitely appear that Williams has the inside track.
Entering his third season in the NFL after going undrafted out of North Dakota State, he has shown a steady progression in his two years with the Jets, with some flashes of brilliance along the way. Only starting in three games for the Jets in 2015, Williams had six interceptions and ten passes defensed. He also started eight games for the team in 2014, gaining valuable experience along the way.
Buster Skrine is one of the top nickel corners in the league, so it would probably be best not to disturb that role. The oft-injured Dee Milliner and Dexter McDougle could also be considered candidates, but Milliner seems to go down with every heavy gust of wind and McDougle is better suited in the nickel and dime spots. Additionally, it is possible that Darrin Walls could be brought back, but he is more of an insurance policy than a full-time starter.
It is certainly not out of the realm of possibility that the Jets will look towards free agency or the draft to find themselves another youngster to work into the mix. However, being that they already have a significant number of high priority free agents in house, I do not expect them to break the bank on any of the big names available in the free agent cornerback pool. They may bring in a second or third-tier free agent at the position, but it is likely that they will look for someone towards the middle to late rounds of the draft.
There is also the outside possibility that the Jets bring back Cromartie at a reduced rate, but that does not seem likely after the inconsistent play he displayed in 2015 and his propensity to get burned by double moves as well as his inability to keep up with the younger, faster receivers in the league. If they do bring him back, it will most likely be following the initial free agency period and the draft, and only because they do not feel they have a replacement in place.
You can read my article from 2/14/16 on a possible replacement in the draft by clicking below: