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Cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who played in the Pro Bowl only six weeks ago, was released Sunday by the New York Jets.
With a $5 million roster bonus due in the coming days, the Jets made the long-anticipated move, creating $9.5 million in cap space -- which they could use to pursue a top free-agent cornerback. They've already reached out to Alterraun Verner of the Tennessee Titans, according to a league source.
The Jets haven't shut the door on the possibility of re-signing Cromartie at some point, a source said, but there are concerns about his age (30) and a chronic hip injury that plagued him last season.
Pro Bowl appearance notwithstanding (he made it as an alternate), Cromartie admittedly suffered one of his worst seasons in 2013. The Jets were ranked 22nd in pass defense, in part, because Cromartie struggled to replace Darrelle Revis as the No. 1 cornerback. It was a significant drop off for Cromartie, who enjoyed perhaps his best season in 2012.
"Cro is one of the finest athletes I've ever coached," coach Rex Ryan said in a statement. "He was willing to contribute wherever the team needed him to win games, be it defense, special teams or offense."
Cromartie knew this was coming. At the end of the season, he said he expected to be a salary-cap casualty. He broke the news on Twitter, thanking the Jets' organization and the fan base:
I would like 2 thank the Jets organization so much with helpin me grow as leader and a player. S/O 2 my teammates I wish u guys the best.- ANTONIO CROMARTIE (@CRO31) March 9, 2014
I would also like to give a big up to The Jets Fan base. Thank you for all the support thru my 4 yr career with you. Thank you again.- ANTONIO CROMARTIE (@CRO31) March 9, 2014
Cromartie, who turns 30 on April 15, was heading into the final year of a four-year, $32 million contract. He renegotiated last offseason, pushing money into this year. The result was a prohibitive $14.98 million cap charge.
The Jets made no effort to re-work his contract again, a source said. With the savings, the Jets have approximately $30 million in cap room -- and that figure will grow by another $8.25 million with the anticipated release of wide receiver Santonio Holmes. That will happen any day.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez also is a likely cap casualty, which would create another $9 million in room. Two years ago, the Jets' cornerback tandem of Cromartie and Revis was the envy of most teams.
But Revis got hurt in 2012 and was traded last year to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and now Cromartie is gone, too. It leaves Dee Milliner, coming off an up-and-down rookie season, and a lot of question marks.
Cornerback play is vital in Ryan's man-to-man scheme, so the Jets have to import another starting-caliber player through free agency or the draft. The Jets acquired Cromartie in a trade with the San Diego Chargers in 2010. It cost them a second-round pick, but he was well worth it.
In four seasons, he made 13 interceptions, played a handful of plays on offense as a wide receiver and delivered a long kickoff return that helped beat the Indianapolis Colts in the 2010 playoffs.