NFL: Cromartie eager for fresh start with Jets
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK — Antonio Cromartie hung up the phone and got excited.
After speaking to Rex Ryan and some of his new Jets teammates, the cornerback was leaving San Diego, putting all his issues behind him and getting a fresh start.
“I think this is going to work out for me and the Jets organization,” Cromartie said Friday. “I’m not going to let them down in any way.”
That’s what the Jets are banking on after acquiring the talented but troubled Cromartie from the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night. The deal reportedly was for a conditional third-round draft pick in 2011 that could become a second-rounder based on his production.
“We felt like the risk was reasonable, given the price we had to pay,” general manager Mike Tannenbaum said, “and we really think he has some great years ahead of him.”
Cromartie said he was already welcomed to the team by quarterback Mark Sanchez, among others. He’ll team with Darrelle Revis to give New York possibly the NFL’s best cornerback tandem.
“I’m looking forward to that,” Cromartie said. “I’m going to be on the other side of the No. 1 corner in the NFL. Just being next to him and working out with him during the offseason and getting ready going into the season is going to help out tremendously.”
That means the defense that was ranked No. 1 in the league is going to get a lot tougher.
“He’ll fit perfectly into our system,” Ryan said. “Now, we don’t necessarily have to always put Revis on the toughest guy. We can switch it up.”
Cromartie was considered one of the rising talents in the league in 2007, when he was an All-Pro in his second season after getting an NFL-leading 10 interceptions, but has struggled since — both on and off the field.
“None of us are perfect,” Tannenbaum said. “We understand that there are some things that need to get resolved here. We just felt like the problems are fixable.”
Cromartie’s tackling has been an issue, as well as his attitude, but Cromartie vows to improve. He also is dealing with paternity issues: Cromartie has fathered seven children by women in five states.
“I made some wrong decisions in my first two years in the NFL and now I have to take on that responsibility of being a father to my kids,” he said. “That’s what I have to do.”
The 25-year-old Cromartie also had a bar patron claim that he hit him in the head with a champagne bottle hours after the team’s victory at Denver last November. San Diego police later said there was not enough evidence to prove the claim.
“I don’t even know where that came from,” Cromartie said. “I was just in the wrong place at the right time.”
He was also disciplined last season by Chargers coach Norv Turner for breaking team rules regarding tweeting from the team premises.
“I’m going to have a clear head this season and just go out and play football the way I know I’m capable of playing,” Cromartie said. “The issues that everyone says are an issue are actually already being taken care of as we speak.”
Cromartie has 15 interceptions in four seasons since being the 19th overall pick out of Florida State in 2006, but the Chargers were dissatisfied with the cornerback’s performance late last season and in the playoffs. General manager A.J. Smith made it clear after the season he would try to trade him.
One of Cromartie’s low moments actually came against his new team in the playoffs in January. Cromartie froze as Jets running back Shonn Greene hit the hole at the start of a 53-yard touchdown run that gave New York a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter of a 17-14 win in the AFC divisional round. Cromartie eventually caught up to Greene and shoved him well after he’d crossed the goal line — but had already drawn the ire of fans and apparently the Chargers.
“It’s something where I should’ve made the play on, honest,” Cromartie said. “I was there to make a tackle for a 4-yard gain, and it didn’t happen.”
Cromartie acknowledged he’s “not the best tackler out there,” but insisted he’s working on that.
Despite the issues both on and off the field, Cromartie gives Ryan an athletic player with loads of potential. He prefers to play man-to-man coverage, something he’ll have a chance to do in Ryan’s defense.
Tannenbaum also said that being able to acquire Cromartie will give the Jets more flexibility in the draft next month. New York doesn’t necessarily have to focus on a cornerback now with the 29th pick, but Tannenbaum added that Ryan likes having lots of depth at the position.
“We feel like we’ve improved the position, but by no means are we satisfied there,” Tannenbaum said. “The more corners we have, as far as Rex can see, that’s good.”