AFC East: Antonio Cromartie

CB Patterson visits with Jets

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
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In a radio interview last week, general manager John Idzik acknowledged the obvious, saying the New York Jets have a need at cornerback. With no attractive options left in free agency, he's down to the second- and third-tier players. One of those free agents, Dimitri Patterson, is visiting Monday with the Jets, a league source confirmed.

Patterson
Patterson, cut recently by the Miami Dolphins, is strictly a backup type. He has started only 20 games in eight years for six different teams. He also has durability questions, as he has played in only eight games over the past two seasons. He missed time last season with a groin injury and was placed on injured reserve late in the season. The Dolphins saved $5.4 million on the cap by releasing him.

He was limited to only six games (four starts) last season, but he actually played well. Patterson recorded four interceptions in 240 defensive snaps, one more than anybody in the Jets' secondary. He graded out well in the ProFootball Focus rankings, but he's not a plug-and-play corner who can replace Antonio Cromartie.

The Jets cut Cromartie, flirted with free agents Vontae Davis and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, showed no interest in a reunion with Darrelle Revis ... and, well, now they have a gaping hole in the starting lineup. It's becoming increasingly obvious they will have to invest a high draft choice in a corner, one year after picking Dee Milliner ninth overall.

Patterson's visit was first reported by Pro Football Talk.
Thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:

1. Penny pinchers: For those not happy with John Idzik's conservative approach to free agency... well, you may not want to read this. It will raise your ire to a new level.

[+] EnlargeIdzik
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJets GM John Idzik has a new style this offseason: less spending, more scouting.
Right now, the Jets have the lowest cash payroll in the NFL -- $86.1 million, according to overthecap.com. We're not talking cap dollars, we're talking actual cash spending for 2014. They're $50 million under than the top-spending team, the Baltimore Ravens. The paltry number makes the Jets seem like the New York Mets of the NFL.

In 14 months, Idzik has systematically dumped many of the highest salaries. Their once-top-heavy cap has thinned to the point where only three players have cap charges of at least $7 million -- D'Brickashaw Ferguson ($11.7 million), Nick Mangold ($7.2 million) and David Harris ($7 million). It's telling that the fourth- and fifth-highest cap numbers belong to players no longer on the roster -- Antonio Cromartie ($5.5 million) and Mark Sanchez ($4.8 million).

The Jets flirted with several big-name free agents (Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), but missed out, in part, because they failed to show them the money. (Pardon the Jerry Maguire-ism.) What conclusions can be drawn? Either the Jets are cheap or Idzik is budgeting for the future. It's probably more of the latter. Know this: Starting this year, teams are required to spend at least 89 percent of the cap in cash over a four-year period. It looks like the Jets will have some catching up to do in future years.

2. DeSean update: Unless they pull a 180, the Jets won't be a factor in the DeSean Jackson sweepstakes -- a smart move. He's not a fit for them. They held internal discussions on Jackson, with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg giving his blessing. Mornhinweg, who coached him with the Philadelphia Eagles, told people in the organization that Jackson -- known for his bad-boy reputation -- wouldn't be a problem in the locker room. That apparently wasn't enough to sway Idzik, who reportedly hadn't reached out to Jackson's agent as of Saturday. Jackson is scheduled to visit Monday with the Washington Redskins. The Oakland Raiders might be interested as well.

3. On the road again: Idzik has popped up at a number of the high-profile pro days, most recently the Johnny Manziel extravaganza at Texas A&M. He's taking more scouting trips than he did last offseason, when he was new on the job and felt obligated to work from the office as he familiarized himself with the operation and the staff.

4. For Pete's sake: I caught up with Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at the league meetings and asked for a scouting report on right tackle Breno Giacomini, who left the Super Bowl champions to sign with the Jets. Carroll: "Great competitor. Really fierce. A really smart player. Tough. Great finisher. Physical. He's legit. We hated losing Breno. We would've liked to (have kept him), but we couldn't do it. We had no intention of wanting to lose him, but he's one of the guys we had to transition out of the organization. He's worth it (for the Jets). He got paid well and he deserves it."

Translation: We liked him, but not at four years, $18 million.

5. Cro is for the birds: With All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson locking down one side of the field, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians expects opponents to attack former Jet Antonio Cromartie -- and he's just fine with that.

"I love the fact that there's going to be a lot of balls thrown at him, because I didn't throw that many when I was playing against him," Arians said at the league meetings, expressing confidence in Cromartie's coverage ability.

He'll rue that statement if Cromartie doesn't cover better than he did last season.

6. Sleeper with speed: It was overshadowed by the Jackson news and the Sanchez signing, but the Jets picked up an interesting player Friday -- cornerback Jeremy Reeves. After a four-year career at Iowa State, where he intercepted five passes (two returned for touchdowns), Reeves was eligible for the 2013 draft. But he tore a pectoral muscle, missed his pro day, wasn't drafted and wasn't signed by anyone. After working out on his own for a year, he participated in Iowa State's pro day last week and burned the 40 in 4.29 seconds, according to school officials.

He's only 5-7, 167 pounds (picture Darren Sproles at corner), but that kind of speed -- even if not totally accurate -- turns heads. The Jets have a good feel for Reeves because Jeff Bauer, the director of college scouting, is an Iowa State alum, plugged into the Iowa scene.

7. Flying with the Eagles: Former Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (it feels weird typing that) made a good point in his introductory news conference in Philadelphia: He believes he could thrive in Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense because of past success in the hurry-up. Sanchez was at his best in two-minute situations, when he didn't have to read the entire field and was required to make quick decisions. So maybe there's hope for him in Philly. On the other hand, his career record against NFC teams isn't sterling -- 10 touchdown passes, 21 interceptions.

8. Reality star: Eric Decker's reality show -- "Eric and Jessie: Game On" -- kicks off its second season Sunday night. (Jessie is his wife, a country-music singer, in case you didn't know.) I asked Rex Ryan if he's worried the show could become a distraction for his new wide receiver. He laughed, but his answer was no. Ryan said the show never came up in conversation with Decker prior to him signing.

9. More teams, wealthier coaches: Ryan is in favor of expanding the playoff field. "Absolutely," he said. "When you look at the fact that bonuses are probably tied into it, absolutely." He laughed, but he wasn't joking. In his new contract extension, Ryan can trigger incentive bonuses for 2016 with playoff wins.

10. Changing times: The Jets have 12 draft picks. In Ryan's first three seasons (2009 to 2011), with Mike Tannenbaum as the GM, they had a total of 13.
Many happenings around the New York Jets:

1. Waiting on DeSean: If the Jets want wide receiver DeSean Jackson, they have the resources to be a major player. They have the need, the cap space (more than $30 million) and the right recruiter (Michael Vick). The question is, do they have the desire?

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesDo the positives outweigh the negatives for a marriage between the Jets and receiver DeSean Jackson?
The sense I get from talking to league sources is the Jets have a measured interest in Jackson, which will intensify if he's released by the Philadelphia Eagles -- a distinct possibility if no one is willing to trade for his contract. He has three years, $30 million remaining on the deal. He reportedly is unwilling to renegotiate his deal, which makes a trade less likely. Jackson may not be motivated to re-work the deal because he knows it will force his release, allowing him to reunite with Vick. It's possible that Vick picked the Jets, knowing his former teammate wouldn't be far behind. Could this all be part of John Idzik's master plan?

Frankly, I think it would be out of character for Idzik. Jackson is a problem child, the ultimate risk-reward gambit. The mere fact Chip Kelly is holding a fire sale for his best receiver should tell you something about how badly he wants to rid himself of Jackson. This is Santonio Holmes revisited. The talent makes the player oh-so-tempting, but is he worth the aggravation? Even if Jackson's market dries up and he accepts a team-friendly deal, he'd be complaining next offseason about wanting a new contract. He's a headache waiting to happen, but the Jets appear willing to stock up on aspirin.

2. The Marty factor: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg knows Jackson better than anyone in the Jets' building, having coached him in Philly, but I wonder about that relationship. In May, 2010, Jackson told the Sporting News, "Our offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, said some things, trying to question my toughness" -- a reference to a 2009 game in which he sat out with a head injury. "I was like, 'Coach, I just got a concussion. This (is) my brain. If it's something else -- my shoulder, whatever -- I'm going to play.'" Based on the quote, it doesn't sound like they're the best of buds.

By the way, Jackson suffered two concussions in 2009 and 2010, including a severe concussion that resulted in memory loss -- another factor the Jets should consider.

3. 3-21: So on the two-year anniversary of the Tim Tebow trade, Mark Sanchez gets cut, Greg McElroy announces his retirement and Vick joins the team. That has to be cosmos, right?

4. Polarizing player: Opinions on the Vick signing are sharply divided among fans and media, which isn't a surprise. I happen to think it's a good deal, but I spoke to one longtime front-office executive who believes Vick, 33, is washed up.

"The Jets already have a guy like him ," said the executive, referring to Geno Smith. "If you bring Vick in, you're not thinking. It makes no sense. He's a good kid. He's more mature, he's not a distraction and the players respect him, but he doesn't bring anything to the table anymore -- nothing. He can't win with his legs anymore, he has to win with his head. His arm is good enough, but unfortunately, the arm isn't connected to the head."

An AFC personnel scout said of the Vick-for-Sanchez move: "I don't know what to think, to be honest. You swap one out for the other. There's still no long-term solution."

5. Penalty pals, revisited: Based on their track records, the Willie Colon-Breno Giacomini tandem on the right side of the offensive line will produce a lot of penalty flags. Colon was penalized a team-high 12 times for 82 yards last season. Giacomini, playing for the Seattle Seahawks, was flagged six times for 39 yards -- in only nine games, mind you. (In addition, he had two holding calls in the postseason.) In 2011 and 2012, he combined for 21 penalties for 172 yards. Unless they change their ways, Colon and Giacomini will invite comparisons to the original Penalty Pals, Jeff Criswell and Dave Cadigan, circa 1993.

6. Keeping their own: Penalties notwithstanding, the Jets made a good move to re-sign Colon, who received a one-year, $2 million contract. Only $500,000 is guaranteed; he can also earn $1 million in base salary, plus another $500,000 in roster bonuses if he plays every game. They gave a similar deal to linebacker Calvin Pace, who can make $2.625 million in the first year of a two-year, $5 million contract.

All told, the Jets retained seven free agents for a combined total of only $5.255 million in guarantees -- Pace, Colon, Nick Folk, Jeff Cumberland, Ellis Lankster, Darrin Walls and Leger Douzable. That's what you call bargain shopping.

7. John the Rigid: The biggest criticism of Idzik, according to some agents and league insiders, is that he shows little or no flexibility in negotiations. He assigns a monetary value to a player and refuses to adjust, they say. That style may help in certain situations, but there are times when you have to examine the big picture and ask yourself, "Do we really want to lose this player over X amount of money?" Idzik's conservative approach probably cost him cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who signed with the New York Giants. So now they have a gaping hole at the position. Barring a trade, or a veteran unexpectedly shaking free, the Jets will have to rely on the draft.

8. Bad things come in threes: In a span of 12 days, Idzik jettisoned three of the cornerstone players from the last playoff team, cutting Sanchez, Holmes and Antonio Cromartie. That's a stunning player dump, considering they're all 30 or under. The downside is the amount of "dead" money on the cap. The three players are counting $12.78 million, nearly 10 percent of the entire salary cap.

9. Small-school sleeper: Remember this name -- Terrence Fede. The former Marist defensive end is trying to become the first player in his school's history to be drafted. The 6-foot-3, 276 pounder was a stud pass rusher as the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., school, recording 30.5 career sacks. He has an impressive burst on the edge. He performed for scouts recently at the University of Buffalo pro day, clocking a 4.79 in the 40. All 32 teams were in attendance, including Jets scout Cole Hufnagel. Even if he's not drafted, Fede will be a priority free agent.

10. The Jets' new dogma: Everybody knows about Vick's sordid history with dog fighting, a crime that resulted in him spending nearly two years in a federal prison. Well, here's something interesting and ironic: One of his new receivers is a dog lover. Eric Decker has a foundation called "Decker's Dogs," which provides service dogs to returning military vets with disabilities. Decker and his wife, Jessica, raise money to help train rescued dogs. They believe rescued dogs have the same success rate as dogs bred for service.

Free-agency review: Jets

March, 18, 2014
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Decker
Most significant signing: Obviously, it's wide receiver Eric Decker (five years, $36.25 million), the biggest veteran acquisition of the John Idzik era. The Jets identified him as the No. 1 receiver on the market, and they made it happen. Decker becomes the top receiver on the team (did you see their receivers last season?), but he's not a true No. 1. His 2013 numbers (87 catches, 1,288 yards) were inflated because he played in the most prolific passing offense in history, with Peyton Manning at quarterback. Unless he's paired with a difference-maker on the other side, Decker won't approach those numbers with the Jets. He's a complementary player; he won't force opponents to alter their game plan.

Howard
Most significant loss: They had hoped to lock up right tackle Austin Howard before free agency, but talks stalled, he hit the market and signed immediately with the Oakland Raiders (five years, $30 million). Howard is the kind of guy you want in your program, a former bottom-of-the-roster player who worked his way into a starting role, demonstrating real potential. But Idzik, with a replacement already lined up, refused to budge on Howard's demands. That replacement turned out to be Breno Giacomini, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks. He's a proficient right tackle and they got him for $18 million over four years, saving money in the swap. But he's not better than Howard. At best, it's a wash.

Biggest surprise: After cutting high-priced vets Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes, giving them nearly $40 million in cap space, the Jets figured to be aggressive players in free agency. But it hasn't worked out that way, as Idzik has reinforced his reputation as a deliberate -- some might say stubborn -- shopper. He re-signed a few complementary starters, namely linebacker Calvin Pace, tight end Jeff Cumberland and kicker Nick Folk, but he hasn't addressed needs at cornerback, quarterback and receiver. Bargain hunting is fine, but you don't want to be too cautious. Clearly, Idzik is refusing to deviate from his long-term plan.

What's next? They have to find a replacement for Cromartie before the draft. It could be Cromartie, who wants to return. They may have no other choice because the current free-agent market for corners is thin, to say the least. Rex Ryan needs cornerback depth to play his defense, which is predicated on man-to-man coverage, and his general manager isn't making it easy on him. They also have needs at quarterback, wide receiver (yes, another one) and tight end, among other positions. At this point, there's not much left in free agency.
John IzdikAP Photo/Johnny VyAfter losing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Giants, Jets GM John Izdik has few options.

DRC picks the New York Giants over the New York Jets, and suddenly you get the feeling that Jets fans are ready to go "DNR." Relax, it's only March 17, too early to panic.

But not too early to be concerned.

Rex Ryan needs cornerbacks to operate his man-to-man defensive system, just like human beings need water to survive, and the Jets are perilously thin after losing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Giants. It was their toughest loss to the Giants since Dec. 24, 2011. The DRC snub came after (in chronological order): They released Antonio Cromartie, failed to lure Vontae Davis away from the Indianapolis Colts and watched with indifference as Darrelle Revis joined forces with the gray hoodie in New England.

Now, suddenly, there's a hysterical over-reaction, with some people floating the conspiracy theory that Jets general manager John Idzik is sabotaging Ryan because he never wanted to extend his contract in the first place and wants to fire him after the 2014 season. That's ridiculous. Idzik is operating from a long-term plan, and he refuses to deviate from the script. He won't be swayed by the fickle nature of the free-agent market and the whims of his fan base.

That's admirable, of course, but here's the thing: Idzik has boxed himself into a corner (no pun intended). If he doesn't re-sign Cromartie, what then? The free-agent market is barren. With no Cromartie, he'd have to swing a trade for a proven starter -- like former GM Mike Tannenbaum did in 2010 with Cromartie -- or be held hostage by the draft, praying he can land Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard with the 18th pick.

Praying is never a good way to approach a draft. It leads to reaches and mistakes.

Idzik's lack of aggressiveness has fueled frustration at One Jets Drive, a potentially troubling issue that outweighs what the fans or media think. Ryan wasn't happy about losing Rodgers-Cromartie, and he wasn't the only one. The feeling is understandable.

"I'm not sure if it's stupidity or calculated," a person familiar with Ryan's thinking said. "But neither helps the Jets."

The Jets began free agency with nearly $40 million in cap space, leading many to believe they'd be plugging holes on an 8-8 roster that overachieved. After a week, what do they have to show for the cap surplus? They re-signed a handful of middle- to bottom-of-the-roster players and added two starters from other teams, wide receiver Eric Decker and right tackle Breno Giacomini. Decker is part of the solution, but he's not a difference-maker. He's a more expensive version of Brian Hartline. They saved a few bucks on the right-tackle swap, but Giacomini-for-Austin Howard is a wash in terms of playing ability.

Now they're staring at a crater-sized hole at cornerback. The Jets made an offer for Rodgers-Cromartie, but they let him out of the building and now he's wearing Big Blue. This will be his fourth team in seven years -- red flags, anyone? -- but he was regarded as the best-available corner in free agency. The Giants got him for five years, $35 million, including $15 million in guarantees -- basically, a Decker-type deal.

"Yeah, I think he screwed up," a longtime front-office executive said of Idzik.

Idzik can save face if he re-signs Cromartie, who has told friends he wants to return. Obviously, it would be for less than he his previous contract, although his leverage improved with Monday's DRC news. A Cromartie-Dee Milliner tandem would be fine, assuming Cromartie's balky hip has healed and Milliner improves in his second year. If Cromartie signs elsewhere, it'll be an egg-on-the-face moment for Idzik.

The GM's job is to get players for his coach. In Ryan's case, he needs cornerbacks. Do you see the Jets' secondary last season?

That said, no GM should be graded after only a week of free agency. Let the man execute his plan, which is based on the upcoming, talent-rich draft -- a draft in which the Jets could have as many as 12 selections. It doesn't matter if the Jets win March. They've done that plenty of times in the past, and where did that get them?

Cornerback crisis puts Rex on edge

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
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The New York Jets' current cornerback crisis reminds me of an anecdote shared by former general manager Mike Tannenbaum. This was back in April 2010, when they had just used their first-round pick on cornerback Kyle Wilson. They already had Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, so there was some question about the wisdom of adding another corner.

Ryan
Tannenbaum recalled a conversation with Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. When he hired Rex Ryan from the Ravens' staff in 2009, Tannenbaum asked Newsome what to expect.

"(Newsome) said, 'I'm shipping him up I-95, and he has a little sign around his neck that says, 'I need corners,'" Tannenbaum said at the time. "That's just who Rex is. He cannot have enough corners."

So it doesn't take a lot of imagination to understand how Ryan is feeling these days: He's freaking out.

The Jets cut Cromartie (an expected move), showed no interest in Revis when he became a free agent and haven't added any veteran corners. (Sorry, we're not counting San Diego Chargers castoff Johnny Patrick.) Their top corners, as we speak, are Dee Milliner, Wilson, Patrick and Darrin Walls.

Oh, boy.

Free agent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie visited Saturday before heading over to the New York Giants for a sitdown. He's the best available corner in a thinned-out market. He's far from perfect (he was awful for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012), but he's 28 years old, can play man-to-man and is coming off a good season with the Denver Broncos. He might not be a 10, but when an 8 hangs out with a bunch of 5s and 6s, he looks like a super hero. (Kind of reminds me of that funny nightclub scene in "Hall Pass," a very under-rated movie, if I must say.)

The ESPN free-agent tracker rates Rodgers-Cromartie, Dimitri Patterson (cut by the Miami Dolphins) and Carlos Rogers (cut by the San Francisco 49ers) as the best available corners. I'd add Cromartie to that list.

The tracker scouting reports:

Rodgers-Cromartie: "One of the best corners on the market, Rodgers-Cromartie was a solid starter on a unit that struggled in 2013. He has good size, and his length and ball skills allow him the chance to make a lot of plays. On film it looks like his pedal and turn are not always consistent, which is why he gets beaten deep too often, but he will show some good flashes in man coverage and can be effective in sub packages. He can be susceptible to double moves."

Patterson: "Patterson has very good ball skills and the route recognition to play man-to-man defense as a perimeter cornerback. Was productive when he played in 2013 but a groin injury limited him and eventually led to him being placed on injured reserve. Does not have great size or length but can be a short-term starting option for a defensive back-needy team."

Rogers: "A soon-to-be 33-year old who is now best suited to handle slot duties after several productive seasons with both Washington and then San Francisco. Rogers' injury issues have been concerning in recent seasons, and after a standout 2011, he's regressed in overall play. He has strong ball skills but lacks the burst to stick with wideouts on the perimeter."
A few takeaways on a quiet day for the New York Jets:

1. Is there a plan at cornerback?: The most alarming development so far is the gaping hole at cornerback. The Jets have yet to replace Antonio Cromartie, who is on an overnight visit with the Arizona Cardinals. The Jets have watched as five top corners, including that guy Revis, signed with other teams. On Thursday, Captain Munnerlyn, who was on the Jets' radar, signed a three-year, $14.25 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings. Rex Ryan, whose defensive scheme is predicated on man-to-man coverage on the perimeter, has to be feeling a bit nervous. If the Jets had to play today, the starters would be Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson. What about a Cromartie reunion? The Jets didn't try to renegotiate before cutting him -- telling. Their best bet might be Cromartie's talented, but enigmatic cousin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

2. Shrinking market: Things have settled down after two days of crazy spending around the league. Now it's a buyer's market, and there are bargains to be had. Of course, the true difference makers are all gone. The Jets continue to talk with Brandon Pettigrew, whom one AFC scout described as "an average to better-than-average starting Y tight end" -- meaning a conventional, in-line tight end. They also remain interested in wide receiver James Jones, another complementary player. The've also been linked to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Let's see if John the Deliberate (Idzik, that is) can find some good values in the second wave.

3. All hands on Decker: It's official: Eric Decker signed his five-year, $36.25 million contract, which includes a guaranteed $15 million in the first two years.

4. Scout's take on Breno: Former Seattle Seahawks right tackle Breno Giacomini, whom the Jets signed to replace Austin Howard, is a bit of a mystery man. An AFC personnel executive assessed him this way: "He's a serviceable starter. He can function, but he's not a world beater. He just does his job." Asked to compare Giacomini to Howard, the executive said, "(Giacomini) is a little different. He has a different body build and more movement skills. He's not as strong or heavy bodied. He's a better foot athlete, with less power. He's a little stiff, but competes."

5. No movement on the QB front: It's quiet, almost too quiet. One noteworthy development: Former St. Louis Rams backup Kellen Clemens, an ex-Jet, signed with the San Diego Chargers. St. Louis could be a potential landing spot for Mark Sanchez, whose first coordinator with the Jets, Brian Schottenheimer, runs the Rams' offense. The Jets have until March 25 to make a decision on Sanchez.

6. Quote of the day: Leger Douzable, a relatively anoymous backup defensive lineman, spoke to reporters to comment on re-signing with the Jets. "I feel like we are going to be the best D-line in the league this year," he said. Sounds like he's excited to be sticking around.
From Antonio Cromartie's perspective, the surprise wasn't that he was released Sunday by the New York Jets; it's that he never got a chance to talk to the team about renegotiating his bloated contract.

Cromartie, a guest Monday on ESPN New York 98.7 FM's Stephen A. Smith & Ryan Ruocco, confirmed that the team wasn't interested in finding a way to pare down his $14.98 million cap charge. Basically, it was a cold cut. Thanks for the memories; you're fired.

"I just thought, for us, me and my agent would get an opportunity to come in and either talk about an extension to get the cap number down or try to restructure," the veteran cornerback said. "But, right now, we didn't hear anything from them."

The most realistic option was a straight pay cut. He was entering the final year of his contract, due to make $9.5 million in salary and bonuses, including a $5 million roster bonus this week. It made no sense for the Jets to extend the deal -- not for a soon-to-be 30-year-old corner with a bum hip -- unless it was just a window-dressing extension for cap purposes. But they never got around to talking numbers.

Cromartie said he would like to finish his career with the Jets and didn't rule out the possibility of re-signing for less money.

"Just talking with the guys [Sunday], the door is still open and that's how I look at it," he said, adding, "I'm going to test the market to see where my numbers are."

Hampered by a strained hip flexor, Cromartie struggled last season. After two months of rest, he claimed he is healthy, predicting, "You're going to see the Antonio Cromartie of old" in 2014. He wants to play eight more years, five at corner, three at safety.

Cromartie took the high road, refusing to bash the Jets. Why bite the hand he hopes will feed him again? He praised coach Rex Ryan and the entire roster, saving his most effusive comments for safety Antonio Allen. He said Allen has "freakish" athletic ability and, if he becomes a consistent player, could be "the next Ed Reed." Allen is an ascending player, no doubt, but that's way over the top.
The New York Jets made an interesting phone call Saturday, inquiring about Tennessee Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner, according to a league source.

Verner, 25, coming off his first Pro Bowl season, will be one of the top cornerbacks on the free-agent market. Before you get too excited, let's add some perspective here: This smacks of a due-diligence call by the Jets, who are involved in a negotiation with their own top cornerback, Antonio Cromartie. If Cromartie doesn't take a pay cut to lower his $15 million cap charge, he'll be released. So, yeah, this could be posturing as well. My sense is that Verner is a contingency if things fall apart with Cromartie.

Verner will be expensive. Very expensive. Brent Grimes re-upped with the Miami Dolphins for four years, $32 million, and Sam Shields re-signed Saturday with the Green Bay Packers for a reported four years, $39 million. I don't think the Jets are eager to spend $9 million to $10 million-a-year on a new corner, one year after using a high first-round pick on Dee Milliner.

True, Cromartie is about four years older than Verner, but he's still a good player, assuming that troublesome hip has healed. If he agrees to reduce the $9.5 million he's due to make in salary and bonuses, Cromartie would be a solid, short-term answer. Then again ...

If the Jets cut Cromartie, they'd save $9.5 million on this year's cap, creating a nice, not-so-little slot for a premier free agent. Interesting. By rule, teams can only talk with agents that represent players from other team. (Yeah, like we believe they're only talking.) The real action starts Tuesday at 4 p.m.
John Idzik showed last year what he can do on a shoestring budget. Now, to use a variation of a Lou Carnesecca line, the New York Jets' general manager gets a chance to shop in Macy's window.

The free-agency season is upon us, and the Jets have about $23 million in cap space, which will grow to more than $40 million if/when they dump Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie and Mark Sanchez. It's "go" time for Idzik, whose long-term plan -- presented to owner Woody Johnson when he was hired 14 months ago -- is predicated on stockpiling talent in 2014.

[+] EnlargeIdzik
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJets GM John Idzik will enter the free-agency period with money to burn; so, how will he spend it?
The story last March was the "Rex-odus," five starters bolting the Jets. Now Idzik has roster flexibility, and we get to see how he attacks the team's weaknesses. A man with money doesn't always translate to success, as we've seen plenty of teams over the years spend money foolishly, wrecking their future cap. No championships are won in March. If they were, the Jets would have more Lombardi Trophies than the New England Patriots.

People who know Idzik say he won't take a "shop-till-you-drop" mentality into free agency. They say he will spend, but won't forget his core principles. He won't give lucrative, long-term deals to players over 30 or those with injury concerns. He won't sell out to sign "the big star." He won't deviate from his "the-draft-is-our lifeline" philosophy. He won't pay top-dollar prices for middle-of-the-road players.

Pardon me, but I'm skeptical of the last one, because most teams overpay in free agency. Do you think starting-caliber receivers will be beating down the Jets' door to play with Geno Smith and the 31st-ranked passing offense? Of course not; the Jets will have to pay to attract the top talent.

Former longtime NFL GM Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst, cautioned that free agency isn't a cure-all.

"The best players are signed,” he said on a media conference call. “These (free agents) are essentially ‘B’ players whose agents are looking for ‘A’ money. That, in itself, is not the best of buys. You recognize that as a general manager.”

Ideally, you want to use free agency to fill needs, allowing you to take a best-available-athlete approach in the draft. It's easy to preach that, but quite another to practice it. When the bidding starts and the money starts flying, it's easy to get sucked into the madness of free agency. Idzik is known for his deliberate approach; we're about the find out how deliberate. The "legal tampering period" begins at midnight; the signing period commences at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

A few thoughts on what to expect from the Jets:

1. Keeping their own: Unlike last year, the Jets are actually trying to retain some of their free agents-to-be, namely RT Austin Howard and TE Jeff Cumberland. They're deep into negotiations with both players. It wouldn't be a surprise if both re-up by Tuesday. They're interested in keeping LB Calvin Pace, 33, but they won't shower him with money because of his age. They told RG Willie Colon, almost 31, he's free to test the market. Once again, it's the age factor. Former second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse also is unlikely to return. In his case, it's not age, it's a talent thing.

2. Resolve the QB situation: If I were Idzik, I'd address this ASAP. How can you convince free-agent receivers to sign if you're selling the still-unproven Smith and a bunch of question marks at quarterback? They should make an immediate run at Michael Vick, with Josh McCown the No. 2 option. Vick isn't what he used to be, but he has more credibility than Smith at this point. If Idzik strikes out in free agency and the trade market, he might have to turn to Sanchez, whose cap charge ($13.1 million) and surgically repaired shoulder make him a less-than-ideal option.

3. Go wide: There are two ways to approach the wide-receiver search. Idzik can go long and invest significant money in Golden Tate, a solid No. 2 receiver, or he can go short and take a chance on Hakeem Nicks, who might be ammenable to a one-year deal. Nicks has No. 1 talent, but he hasn't played like a lead receiver since 2011. Obviously, there are other options as well, including Emmanuel Sanders. Stay away from Eric Decker; he'll cost too much and he's not a true No. 1. If the Jets can sign a No. 2, pairing him with Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill and David Nelson, they'd be in position to look for a No. 1 in a receiver-rich draft.

4. The big splurge: Even though the Jets have a ton of cap space, I can't see Idzik spending franchise-type money for one player -- unless he makes an exception for S Jairus Byrd. Even that would be a long shot. With the possibility of 12 draft choices (counting possible compensatory picks), Idzik can afford to be relatively patient, building for sustainable success and avoiding the quick fix. The goal should be to build around Smith, letting him grow with those around him. That was part of the problem for the previous regime. They put Sanchez in charge of a win-now team and, by the time Sanchez was ready to take the next step, the talent around him had eroded. They couldn't get it going at the same time. This is Idzik's chance to make that happen.
Addressing cornerback depth before the start of free agency, the New York Jets re-signed backups Ellis Lankster and Darrin Walls, the team announced Wednesday night. Lankster was slated to become an unrestricted free agent, Walls a restricted free agent.

Lankster
Walls
The moves came on the same day in which they acquired cornerback Johnny Patrick on waivers from the San Diego Chargers. It means they have six experienced corners under contract, although the future of the No. 1 corner -- Antonio Cromartie -- remains cloudy because of a $15 million cap charge.

Lankster is an underrated signing. In fact, he was ranked No. 6 on our list of the team's 16 unrestricted free agents. He didn't play much cornerback last season (only 29 snaps), but he was a core special teamer, finishing second on the team with 20 tackles. The Jets were concerned that he'd draw interest on the open market, so they made a preemptive strike.

Walls is coming off a weird year. He played a fair amount of football (three starts and a total of 289 snaps), starting opposite Cromartie whenever rookie Dee Milliner was in the doghouse. But when Milliner was in the lineup, Walls was the forgotten man. The Jets rarely used more than three corners in any package, so it turned into an all-or-nothing situation for Walls, who finished with no interceptions and four pass breakups.

Rex Ryan has plenty of bodies at corner, but he'll have a gaping hole if they cut Cromartie. Aside from Milliner, none of the others are starting-caliber players.
A belated welcome to March, a month of madness in the NFL. It will be eventful for the New York Jets, whose roster will undergo major changes over the next four weeks. A sneak preview:

1. The purge: Even though they have plenty of salary-cap space, the Jets will unload some dead weight. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes will be released any day, an $8.25 million savings. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie ($14.98 million cap charge) will be released unless he takes a pay cut for the final year of his contract, which includes a prohibitive $5 million roster bonus. When healthy, Cromartie still is a quality corner. My gut tells me Cromartie will end up playing for the Jets in 2014.

2. The Sanchez saga: General manager John Idzik has yet to reveal his hand with regard to his plans for quarterback Mark Sanchez. At this point, why would he? He has until March 25, when a $2 million roster bonus is due. Starting March 11, I expect the Jets to chase the top free-agent quarterbacks, namely Michael Vick and Josh McCown. If they get shut out, the possibility of retaining Sanchez becomes realistic. It would be contingent on a pay cut (his base salary is $9 million) and a positive medical report on his surgically repaired throwing shoulder. He spent last week at the team's facility, rehabbing under the watchful eyes of the trainers. While I still think Sanchez's ouster is likely, I wouldn't call it a foregone conclusion. Why cut the man unless you have a replacement?

3. Idzik's first big deal: In 13 months as the GM, Idzik has yet to dole out a big contract for a veteran player. By big, I mean at least $5 million per year. Who will be his first major investment? Chances are, it will be right tackle Austin Howard, who will be an unrestricted free agent. The Jets are trying to get him locked up before March 11. Other players they'd like to keep are tight end Jeff Cumberland and outside linebacker Calvin Pace.

4. Gentlemen, start your checkbooks: With a $133 million salary cap, the Jets are $21.2 million under the cap, according to ESPN's figures. They have the flexibility to be big spenders. Look for them to attack the wide-receiver market, with Golden Tate (Seattle Seahawks), Emmanuel Sanders (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants) among the most likely targets. Eric Decker (Denver Broncos) will be a hot commodity, but probably too pricey for the Jets. They could be looking for a tight end, perhaps Brandon Pettigrew (Detroit Lions), if they fail to re-sign Cumberland. The goal for the offseason is to upgrade the offense. By the end of the month, the skill positions could have a different look.

The New York Jets are rooting for cornerback Darrelle Revis to remain with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

When the Jets dealt Revis to the Bucs last April, they received a first-round pick (13th overall) and a conditional fourth-round choice that improves to a third-rounder if Revis is on the Bucs' roster for the third day of the 2014 league year -- March 13.

General manager John Idzik probably thought that was a gimme when he made the trade, but now there's speculation that Revis could be traded again. CBS Sports reported that the Bucs were approached at the scouting combine by teams inquiring about his availability. If the Bucs decide to move Revis, their motivation is to get it done by March 13, allowing them to retain their third-round pick.

It's not that hard to trade Revis because he signed a six-year, $96 million contract last year that included no guarantees, meaning no cap hit for the Bucs if they cut or trade him. New coach Lovie Smith is installing a Tampa-2 system -- not a good move for Revis' elite man-to-man skills -- another factor that has people wondering about a trade.

I thought the Bucs made a bad trade last year for Revis, who was coming off major knee surgery, and now it looks really bad. If they do ship him out, they wouldn't get the 13th pick (or anything close) in return. Maybe the Bucs realize what the Jets knew last year: Revis is a terrific player, but he's not worth a $16 million cap charge.

Could Revis return to the Jets? That's funny. Even if they cut Antonio Cromartie, I can't see them turning to Revis unless he gives them a huge discount -- and we all know that's not happening. The Jets are committed to Dee Milliner, and I have a feeling things will work out with Cromartie. Why would they want to go back to the bargaining table with a player who called their general manager a liar last spring? Why would Revis want to go back?

If the Bucs decide to trade him (a big "if" at this point), they'd look like idiots to send him back to the Jets, probably receiving 75 cents on the dollar. But they could impact the Jets by dealing him in the AFC East -- like, say, the New England Patriots, whose best corner, Aqib Talib, is set to become a free agent.

Antonio Cromartie could need hip surgery

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
6:15
PM ET
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie acknowledged Thursday he could need offseason surgery on the right hip that has bothered him this season.

"Hopefully there's nothing that's too serious," Cromartie said. "Hopefully I don't have to have surgery, or if it is, it's something that's a cleanup job and easy to come by and go from there."

Cromartie
Cromartie fractured his hip in 2008 with the Chargers, playing most of the season with it, and believes there's a connection between that injury and the one he's dealing with now. He said he'd been maintaining his hip well for the past few years, before it became problematic this season.

While Cromartie hasn't missed a game this season, he had to leave the Nov. 24 loss to Baltimore due to the hip and almost didn't play the following week against Miami. As Cromartie has played through the injury, his play has noticeably dipped this year. He also has dealt with a hyperextended knee.

The 29-year-old plans to see hip specialists after he watches his alma mater, Florida State, play for the national championship against Auburn on Jan. 6.

"Just understand what we got to try to do and if there's surgery that needs to be done to the point of cleaning it out or something like that, then that's something we have to do I think," Cromartie said. "We have great team doctors here and a great training staff that gets guys back healthy."

As Cromartie prepares to take care of his hip in the offseason, the Jets will have to decide whether or not they want to retain Cromartie for 2014. His health could play a role in the team's decision. Cromartie will carry a cap hit of $14.98 million next season. And he's due a $5 million roster bonus in March, which forces the issue. The Jets would save $9.5 million if they were to release Cromartie. He signed a four-year, $32 million deal prior to the 2011 season.

If the Jets don't want to keep Cromartie at that value but would like to retain him, they could extend him or ask him to take a pay cut. With a pay cut, Cromartie would not make his normal salary but could potentially make more than he would if he were to be released and become a free agent. Most free-agent cornerbacks in 2013 did not strike it rich, and Cromartie's health and age could hurt him.

Cromartie said he'd be willing to restructure his deal, but with one year left, he can't prorate any portion of his contract. Cromartie isn't concerned with whether or not his contract will affect his status with the team.

"This is where I want to be. My family loves it here and I think the biggest thing for me is just making sure that going into this last game I play to the best of my ability," Cromartie said. "At the end of the day, no matter what you do your last name is your résumé. That's how I go about it. I want to make sure I'm here, my family wants to be here, and this is where I want to retire."

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