After Antonio Cromartie called out the leaders of the NFL and the NFL Players Association, Baltimore's Ray Lewis and Arizona's Darnell Dockett wanted people to know the New York Jets cornerback doesn't speak for all players.
"We have leaders," Dockett said Wednesday. "We know what is fair and the players are behind our leadership."
The players' association is preparing for a potential lockout in early March if the two sides cannot come to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. In practical terms, it means free agents such as Cromartie will live with the uncertainty of not knowing where they will play next season.
Although Cromartie was critical of leadership on both sides, Lewis wants to be clear that he supports DeMaurice Smith, the union's executive director.
"Great leaders are servants first," Lewis said. "That is who our leaders are. Players are not going to turn on each other. We are blessed with what we have and it is on all of us to keep it fair. I'm resolved to do that."
Lewis and Dockett are not player representatives for their teams but still felt like speaking out on the issue.
Cromartie voiced his displeasure in a profanity-laced answer to questions about the uncertainty the day after the Jets lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.
"To me, you need to stop bitching about it," Cromartie said Monday, "and if you wanna say you're gonna get into a room and meet and greet, and say you're gonna do what you need to do, then do it. Don't just talk about it."
It was a substantive breach in the solidarity the players are trying to maintain as the conflict is about to enter another phase. A fractious group of players would have less bargaining power, as the league and union negotiate how to divvy up the billions of dollars in revenue that the league takes in.
As for the language that Cromartie used, Smith responded the way Patriots quarterback Tom Brady did when Cromartie used an obscene term to describe him.
"I've been called worse," Smith said.
Jane McManus is a reporter and columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.