There is one less cornerback on the Jets’ free agent board, with Antonio Cromartie signing a contract with the Cardinals on Thursday.
Cromartie joined the Jets in 2010 and was a steady contributor at cornerback and popular among the fanbase. But a hip injury limited him last season and the Jets decided to part ways with him and the $14.98 million due on his contract.
The Jets re-signed Darrin Walls and Ellis Lankster this offseason but have yet to bring in a marquee cornerback. They saw the Patriots sign former Jet Darrelle Revis as a free agent last week. They also lost out on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who signed a five-year contract worth $35 million — with nearly $15 million in guaranteed money — with the Giants earlier this week.
Cromartie was deemed to be one of the top cornerbacks in free agency but the market for his services was slim. Two weeks ago, a team source told Metro New York the Jets were open to bringing him back but wanted to test the water with other free agents first.
“When it reaches that stage where a player is free, both sides have to feel good that it’s a fit, given the circumstances,” general manager John Idzik said in a Thursday conference call when asked about Cromartie signing in Arizona. “And we were going to monitor it and see where it took him and that’s what happened.”
While Cromartie played well with the Jets, in particular in 2012 when Revis went down for the year with a Week 3 knee injury, he wasn’t a great fit in their scheme. While physically gifted, he wasn’t comfortable with the physical play required by cornerbacks in the Jets’ press scheme. The hip injury last season led to him being repeatedly burned underneath as he gave a huge cushion to compensate for his injury.
One team source said Cromartie “would sometimes frustrate the coaching staff and teammates by not always tuning in during practice.”
The Jets are now left to wade through the rest of the free-agent pool, which includes veterans Champ Bailey and Asante Samuel.
But a team source said the Jets are eager to see how first-round pick Dee Milliner contributes after a rookie campaign where he improved over the final month. The coaching staff is also high on Walls who they believe can develop into a starter, the source said.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.