Antonio Cromartie built on a strong 2011 and stepped up when Darrelle Revis went down. The Jets finished sixth in the league in yards allowed per passing attempt. The pass defense was a bit of a paper tiger. They played eleven games against teams in the bottom half of the league in yards per attempt and nine games (over half the schedule) against teams in the bottom ten. This was no 2009 defense giving up 5.4 yards per pass with five games against the top four teams. Cromartie is no Revis, but he did a more than credible job.
Cromartie passed the eye test battling against opposing number one receivers, and the numbers look solid also. He was sixth in the league among corners who took 50% of their team's snaps allowing a catch once every 13.2 targets and was one of only fourteen cornerbacks to allow less than one passing yard per play in coverage. He's also transformed from a guy who avoided contact when he arrived in New York to one who hits big, even if he doesn't wrap like he should when tackling.
Cromartie presents an interesting dilemma. He is nowhere near as good as Darrelle Revis. The Jets can probably afford one of either Cromartie or Revis over the long haul. Cromartie is a bit cheaper but arguably provides less value. You can build a defense around Revis taking up half the field. Cromartie is not that reliable. Even in a strong year, he gave up too many big plays because he does a poor job tracking the ball in the air on long passes.
Coming off a good year, Antonio's trade value is probably as high as it is going to get. His cap value of $10.7 million over the next two years isn't totally out of line with what really good cornerbacks can get on the free agent market. Trading him would clear up over $8 million in cap space, sorely needed by this team. Trading Revis actually costs the Jets cap space.
There is another factor. Cromartie has been inconsistent his whole career. He has had great years and followed them up with mediocre ones. Counting on him to stay at the top of his game is quite risky.
I'm a bit conflicted on Cromartie. I'd love to see the Jets clear that contract off their books. I've had enough of the team giving top dollar to players who aren't consistently among the very best at their position. At the same time, I don't think the Jets are really in a position to lower the talent level on the roster.
For me it comes down to price. If trading Cromartie could net the conditional second the Jets gave up to grab him three years ago, I would probably do it. The odds of finding comparable value at a lower price would be reasonable. If they could get only the seventh round Philadelphia got for Asante Samuel a year ago, I would keep Cro around. It's best to not deal something for nothing.