According to Michael Lombardi of the NFL Network, the New York Jets are so focused on keeping Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards that they are willing to let cornerback Antonio Cromartie go to free agency.
Antonio Cromartie is the opposite corner of All-Pro Darrelle Revis, is tremendously talented at intercepting passes, and is at his best in man-to-man situations. He's a very good cornerback at covering, but a lousy run defender.
Why is he so important? Well, the Jets traded a third-round pick (could change to a second-round pick depending on performance) for him last year to pair him with Darrelle Revis and shut down the passing attack of anyone with the misfortune to play the Jets. The Jets secondary did quite well in 2010. They ranked sixth in total passing yards allowed, and the defense was sixth in scoring allowed and third in total yards allowed.
Update: I emailed Nick Canepa of the San Diego Union Tribune, he states that the Chargers will get a second-round pick because Cromartie played at a high enough level with the Jets.
Cromartie was a big part of that, but I'm going to say that the Jets are doing the right thing by not giving up their receivers to keep Cromartie.
The first thing you have to realize is that everybody in this league is replaceable unless you're at the level of Peyton Manning or Ray Lewis. Cromartie would not have been traded from the Chargers if he was at that kind of level, so the idea that the Jets are losing a gigantic part of their defense is overstating it.
He's a good corner, but not a great corner. Cromartie suffers from the Deion Sanders syndrome. He thinks that he can be an all-time great by just covering receivers and not tackling ball carriers. Except the problem is that he's not Deion Sanders. There's only one "Neion Deion" and anybody who tries to imitate him like that is going to get ridiculed because only Sanders could pull it off.
So, if the Jets allow Cromartie to leave, they lose a good man-to-man corner, but they lose a guy who will let the running back sprint past him.
Second, the Jets are not without options. This year in free agency, another star All-Pro cornerback is hitting the market. Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha is free from his contract due to a major blunder by the Raiders in the wording of his contract, and he's twice as good as Cromartie is.
Put Asomugha and Revis on the same team, and quarterback's No. 3 receiver/tight end becomes the No. 1 target.
But then you have to deal with Kyle Wilson as the third corner. Kyle Wilson was drafted last year in the first round out of Boise State by the Jets, and has developed along the way. I'm not sure how far along he has come, but you never truly know until you let him test the waters.
Kyle Wilson is also a second option to put as a starter should the Jets not get Asomugha. The man's a first round draft choice. First round picks aren't nickel backs or third corners. The guys you get in the first round are guys that you intend to start for the team eventually.
Kyle Wilson may be given the chance to step up and see how good he can be opposite Darrelle Revis. He could turn into a stud like that and the Jets will have a young pair of elite corners for maybe five or more years. Granted, the idea of Kyle Wilson duplicating Darrelle Revis is a bit of a reach; yet in my experience with the NFL, anything is possible.
Furthermore, I think the defensive system that Rex Ryan has set up makes it easier to excel if you are a defensive back. Before Rex Ryan arrived, Darrelle Revis was a good cornerback—he even made the Pro Bowl once, in 2008—but the year Rex Ryan arrived, Revis went from Pro Bowl to first-team All-Pro. That tells me that Rex Ryan gets players to play better because of his coaching.
I think a large part of Cromartie's success can be linked to Rex Ryan's methods. Also, the Jets were already great in passing defense before Cromartie arrived. In 2009, they were first in passing yards and touchdowns allowed. If anything, they got worse with Cromartie replacing Lito Sheppard, who was released in March of 2010.
No, the Jets don't need Antonio Cromartie. They have a great system and great coaches that can get young new defensive backs to play at a high level and excel. If anything, Cromartie needs them because not many teams will want him.
Antonio Cromartie is an amazing athlete, but he's a very flawed locker room presence. He has nine kids with eight women in six states, doesn't pay his child support all the time, talks a lot of trash and does not always back it up and has somewhat of a short fuse.
He even threatened Matt Hasselbeck on Twitter due to a little trash talk where Hasselbeck asked if he even knew what CBA (collective bargaining agreement) stood for, and Cromartie answered with, "I will smash ur face in.” Yes, I'm aware it is "your" but Cromartie apparently doesn't care.
Granted, the rest of the Jets locker room isn't exactly made up of choir boys, the point that Cromartie could be a negative influence in the locker room still stands.
The fact that Cromartie came in to a good defense and quickly did well speaks volumes about Rex Ryan's ability to replace pieces of his defense. Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards on the other hand need to stay with the Jets so Mark Sanchez can improve his chemistry with them. I'm not saying they are Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin, but they are good receivers that are improving with Sanchez.
Cromartie is replaceable.