By releasing Cromartie, the Jets will save $9.5 million of his $14.98 million cap charge for 2014. They also avoid paying him a $5 million bonus that was coming due shortly after the beginning of the league year on March 11.
The move could cause a seismic shift in the Jets' secondary, with 2013 rookie cornerback Dee Milliner stepping into Cromartie's spot as the No. 1 cornerback. He had an up-and-down rookie year, but finished the season on a high note by winning the Defensive Rookie of the Month award for December.
"Somebody said it during the year, that they thought that at the end of the year, he would be the top corner that came out in that draft class. I don't remember who that was," head coach Rex Ryan said at the scouting combine, jokingly, referring to himself. "He had some ups and downs, but that was based on the fact that he had no minicamps because he had a surgery, then he's going into training camp and he was hampered with an Achilles' injury, then a hamstring injury ... he's kind of learning on the run. Sometimes, we put him down to watch a little bit, and then he came back strong."
Milliner did a remarkable job on Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (five passes defensed, interception) and Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace (five passes defensed, two interceptions) in the final two games of the season. The release of Cromartie signals confidence in Milliner's development headed into his second year.
Backup cornerback Kyle Wilson could be asked to play a more prominent role in the secondary as well. Wilson has been primarily a slot cornerback over the years, playing 279 of his 356 coverage snaps (78.4 percent) from the slot in 2013. He is entering the final year of his five-year rookie contract.
From a Patriots perspective, Cromartie might be a name to keep in mind if free-agent cornerback Aqib Talib signs with another team. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Cromartie possesses similar dimensions to Talib's 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame.
Like Talib, Cromartie is known for his abilities in man coverage, particularly when pressing his receiver at the line of scrimmage.
Cromartie was the Jets' No. 1 cornerback when Darrelle Revis went down with a knee injury in 2012. Cromartie stayed at that spot when Revis was traded to the Buccaneers. The 2013 season was a step back for Cromartie, and the Jets could not justify paying so much for his services.
Although he appeared to have lost a step at times in 2013, he suffered a knee injury in Week 6 and a hip injury in Week 12, and was never quite the same.
"We all recognize that Cro had about as good a year as any corner — not this past season, but two years ago. Last year it wasn't as good a year," said Ryan. "The hip, whatever it was, he never quite had the year that he had the year before. And he'll be the first one to tell you that. But again, when you look at him, it's hard to find corners with his kind of size, speed, length and playmaking ability."
Cromartie is the kind of player the Patriots have brought in on low-risk, high-reward free-agent deals in the past. He is a high-profile player, so he might command a nice contract, but he may also need to take a one-year prove-it deal after a down year in which he wasn't on the field all the time.
It's also important to note that players who are cut and signed as free-agents do not count against a team when the league hands out compensatory picks.
There's just no way to talk about Cromartie's potential fit with the Patriots, without bringing up his prickly nature with the media. He has been known to provide more than his fair share of soundbites to reporters, and even had a few gems about the Patriots over the years.
In an interview with the New York Daily News, he called Patriots quarterback Tom Brady "an a**hole," and said, "F*** him." Awhile after his comments on Brady, he called the Patriots "the new America's Team" in an interview with the Star-Ledger.
The Patriots could sign Cromartie to address a shortage at cornerback, and simultaneously alleviate every Patriots reporter's shortage of story lines.
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