Old friend Antonio Cromartie's one year contract with Arizona is at an end. Could a New York reunion be in the works? There is plenty of buzz that Cromartie wants to come back to the Jets, and his Arizona defensive coordinator is now the Jets head coach.
The idea is very popular, and I do think the Jets should have interest in a second stint of duty for Cromartie. I do think it is important to understand what Cromartie is, and what he isn't at this point of his career.
Cromartie would be an upgrade over anything the Jets currently have on the roster. He has a much better track record. After an ugly 2013, he had a nice bounceback year. His major numbers were all ranged from average to above average. Pro Football Focus says 73 cornerbacks played in at least half of their team's pass defense snaps. Cromartie allowed 700 receiving yards in 594 coverage snaps. That average of 1.17 ranked 30th. He allowed a reception once every 12.4 snaps. That was 10th in the league. He was targeted once every 7.3 snaps. That was fifth fewest in the league.
This paints the picture of an above average cornerback, and Cromartie was in 2014. There are a few things to note.
First is the wild inconsistency Cromartie has shown from year to year during his career. He was a First Team All Pro in 2007. He then struggled so much in 2008 and 2009 that he got traded. He was so-so in 2010. He was very good in 2011 and 2012. He was very bad in 2013. Then he was good again in 2014. This is something to note. His career has been very up and down.
Second is while Cromartie's numbers were very good, he also drew favorable assignments. The Cardinals tended to stick Patrick Peterson on the other team's top receiver. When Arizona played Dallas, Peterson drew Dez Bryant. When Arizona played Philadelphia, Peterson got Jeremy Maclin. When Arizona played Atlanta with Roddy White inactive, Peterson got Julio Jones. One of the few times Cromartie punched above his weight class, Demaryius Thomas posted 208 yards on him.
Cromartie has been very good using his size and athletic ability to cover players going on downfield routes. He doesn't possess strong instincts to play zone well on a consistent basis, and he is much easier to beat when the receiver is not simply running vertically.
None of this is to say bringing back Cromartie is a bad idea. He can still be effective and a substantial upgrade. We simply need to understand what Cromartie brings to the table. He is a hold the fort guy, not a star. He is a starter, not a lockdown corner to put on an island against elite receivers.
With all of this in mind, the Jets need to be careful with any pursuit of Cro. He will be 31 at the start of next season. He relies heavily on his athleticism, and that is going to diminish. The Jets paid for not adequately replacing him in 2014. They don't want to pay again by giving Cromartie a deal they cannot escape should he decline. I would like to see the Jets stay in the $4-5 million annual range Cro got this season, but it's more important that they be able to escape any deal. They also should expect a decent starter, not the star he has been at points during his career.
On another note, Cromarite's availability shows how ill-conceived the way cornerback was handled in free agency last year. There were claims that John Idzik was thinking of the future by not spending. We are now in the future. The Jets had many chances a year ago to add cornerbacks superior to Cromartie who would have helped them more in 2014, 2015, and beyond. Now the inferior Cro is one of the top options available.