Antonio Cromartie saw future in Arizona
March, 20, 2014
By Josh Weinfuss | ESPN.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Antonio Cromartie didn't know why teams weren't calling.
Maybe it was his age. Maybe it was hips. Maybe they thought he was washed up.
But when he was introduced late Thursday afternoon as the newest member of the Arizona Cardinals' secondary, none of that seemed to matter. There wasn't a chip on his shoulder. There wasn't anger in his voice when he talked about no one calling. Cromartie, a 30-year-old cornerback who had a hip-flexor strain until, he said, late last season, said signing a one-year deal was all the motivation he needed for the upcoming season.
And, to him, there were worse places he could've landed.
“You're part of a team that's right where it needs to be,” Cromartie said. “That's a team that's been there, that's committed, one, to winning and a team that's right on the edge, on the verge of being a Super Bowl champion team.
“And that's what you look for. I'm a veteran guy. I'm going into my ninth year. That's what you look for.”
It didn't hurt that when Cromartie looked at the Cardinals last week, he saw two of the most promising defensive backs in the league: Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Throughout his press conference, Cromartie wouldn't talk about one without the other.
Together, Cromartie, Peterson and Mathieu, who's out indefinitely while he recovers from ACL and LCL surgery, form one of the top secondaries in the NFL.
AP Photo/Bill FeigAntonio Cromartie joins an already formidable Cardinals defensive backfield featuring Tyrann Mathieu (32) and Patrick Peterson (21).
“When you add all three of us into the secondary, it just speaks volumes of what this secondary can be,” Cromartie said. “You have three guys that's on the backend that have the potential of making an interception and turning it into a touchdown.”
The focus of this defense, however, will be on the corners -- Peterson and Cromartie. Playing in a tandem of this caliber isn't new to Cromartie, who teamed with Darrelle Revis on the New York Jets from 2010-12.
With Cromartie's addition, the Cardinals will have two shut-down corners -- one 6-foot-1 and the other 6-2 -- who are capable of defending an offense's top receiver. That'll give defensive coordinator Todd Bowles some freedom and creative liberties while taking some of the pressure and strain off Peterson.
“I think you have the ability where no matter what your matchups are, you have some flexibility,” Keim said. “You don't have to move Patrick around and dictate to offenses. I think now, you have the ability to be flexible defensively and then once we get Ty back, it really opens up the door for multiple defenses.”
Cromartie's tenacity playing press man coverage -- which was significantly slowed last season by his hip injury -- helped sell the Cardinals on Cromartie.
It also helped sell Cromartie on the Cardinals.
During Cromartie's visit to Arizona last week, Keim pitched Cromartie and his agent, Ben Dogra, on the potential of recovering from an off 2013 season while re-establishing Cromartie's name.
“‘Why not do it at a place where you feel like you have a top-five defense?'” Keim said his pitch was. “‘You have a team that is going to feature you on an island. You're going to get a lot of balls thrown your way, obviously because of Patrick being on the other side, so your ability to create stats and to cover in a short amount of time and play in a good defense is beneficial to you.'”
Obviously, it worked.
As Keim did before signing left tackle Jared Veldheer, he went to cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross, who coached Cromartie in San Diego. The reviews were raving. Ross said he compared Cromartie to a grad assistant in college because of his study habits and thirst for learning.
Cromartie left Arizona last Friday with an offer, Keim said, but didn't initially agree to it. While speculation flooded the airwaves and social media, Cromartie said it was simply because he had to get his wife onboard. Moving isn't easy, he talked about, especially with kids and schools involved, and Cromartie wanted his wife's input on the decision.
While he was in Arizona, however, Cromartie said he felt at home, like he'd been with the Cardinals for “two or three years.” But Keim isn't one to sit and wait. When Cromartie didn't initially sign, Keim brought in cornerback Mike Jenkins all while still actively pursuing Cromartie.
“We were very aggressive,” Keim said. “I have a great relationship with Ben Dogra, who was his agent, and we just stayed on top of things.
“We tried to turn up the heat and make sure that Antonio knew that we wanted him to be a Cardinal,” Keim added.
He got his man and the Cardinals got one of the best cornerback tandems in the league -- if Cromartie can get back to his 2012 self.
Cromartie knows what it takes to form such a formidable duo and, in this case with Peterson, it has nothing to do with them working together.
“We're two different styles type of players, and at the end of the day, if we're going out and doing the jobs and shutting down the receivers and doing the things that we're supposed to do, then you start talking about how that tandem is, and how long can this tandem play for, or this is one of the best tandems in the NFL,” Cromartie said. “That's what we look for.”