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Jets Need to Lockdown Alcrotraz

True or not, the Jets, in fact, are playing a dangerous game in potentially letting Cromartie walk.

The wage executions on Antonio Cromartie’s child support payments most likely won’t be coming from the Jets in 2011 and beyond. Last week, several outlets reported the Jets have placed a low priority on resigning the cornerback, instead assessing that wide receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith are all more important free agents to the team. Cromartie tweeted that he wants to be a Jet, calling the reports “rumors.”

True or not, the Jets, in fact, are playing a dangerous game in potentially letting Cromartie walk.

When they traded what became a second-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft to the Chargers last spring, the Jets were adding an enigma of a player who boats as much physical talent as any cornerback in the league. But Cromartie was plagued with inconsistency, only in 2007 did he achieve his full potential when he made the Pro Bowl and was named an All-Pro. A solid 2010 season where Cromartie overcame early season inconsistencies for a strong run of play through the playoffs certainly helped re-establish his overall value.

But perhaps not enough to overcome the juvenile and reckless comments he consistently made throughout the year – bad enough for Jets owner Woody Johnson to head down to the factory and pick up some Rolaids, pronto.

The fact that the Jets are willing to re-sign two players in Holmes and Edwards who are far more troubled then Cromartie is a sign of utmost hypocrisy from the franchise. Cromartie’s comments prior to the New England divisional game in the playoffs - where he cursed, rambled and ranted while referring to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady - were immature and unprofessional. And his angry comments about the player union and the looming lockout were equally head-scratching, but that doesn’t make Cromartie a bad guy. Just maybe not the brightest.

And no matter how many psychological tests teams give to players, general managers will always roll the dice on a 6-foot-2, 211-pound cornerback with speed and long arms. And that’s what the Jets should do but appear destined not to.

Cromartie is a caricature of the NFL today, a player who has fathered several children while perennially playing the field as a bachelor. He speaks what he thinks with no filter and has an unbridled sense of self worth. But unlike Holmes and Edwards, there is no criminal record.

Holmes, after all has been arrested for drug possession and been involved in his fair share of scraps and fights off the field, having to sit out the first four games of this past season for the Jets with a league mandated suspension due to his personal life. A suspension could be looming too for Edwards, who like Holmes has been arrested for a fight in a bar. And recently, there was last September when Edwards was slapped with pair of handcuffs following a DWI stop in Manhattan.

All that is OK for the Jets apparently, but Cromartie running his mouth isn’t.

Without a doubt, Cromartie’s re-signing might be more valuable than any of the wide receivers coming back. After all in the Jets 3-4 scheme, head coach Rex Ryan places a high significance on lockdown cornerbacks, a position which lets his linebackers blitz to form some semblance of a pass rush. When it mattered most, Cromartie proved his worth with solid play throughout the playoffs against three of the league’s better passing offenses, even filling in for an injured Brad Smith and returning kickoffs in the Wild Card win.

Cromartie’s numbers weren’t great this year, but must not be viewed with an armchair quarterback’s perspective of looking at the fantasy bottom line. Playing opposite Darrelle Revis, the game’s premier cornerback, Cromartie was tested repeatedly as time after time, quarterbacks threw away from “Revis Island” and in his direction. Given the volume of passes he faced, Cromartie was tested with more than his fair share of balls but his play was overall solid, especially when it counted most. He surrendered just one touchdown in the playoffs.

And as big as Holmes was this year, a player who earned the nickname “Tone Time” for his fourth quarter heroics still might not be worth the risk for the Jets.

After all, the Jets could conceivably re-sign Smith and also utilize Joe McKnight in the slot, two players who could be serviceable in Holmes’ current role with the team. Tight end Dustin Keller also thrived over the middle in the four games while Holmes was suspended, giving Sanchez a big target to hit on third down. All this means that Holmes might be a pricey luxury that the top-loaded, cap-tight Jets can’t afford right now. And with less expensive options in the free agent pool such as former Jet Chansi Stuckey and Green Bay’s James Jones, is Holmes worth breaking the bank for?

Cromartie is important to the team because first round pick Kyle Wilson looked overwhelmed in the nickel package last year. And after Wilson, the cornerback depth is limited to Drew Coleman, a player who has figured out how to get sacks off a cornerback blitz and whose coverage remains as soft as Ryan's underbelly.

The temptation, of course, for general manager Mike Tannenbaum, he who loves to make a big signing splash, will be to re-sign Holmes first and then make a big push for Nnamdi Asomugha as the cornerback opposite Revis. But that too, while an exciting move that will sell jerseys, may not be the best fit for overall depth and might tie up too much of the cap where there are other needs.

It might be best to re-sign Cromartie, a player whose cap hit won’t be as big of a hit as Holmes or certainly Asomugha, and use the cap flexibility to re-ink as much as of the Jets core as possible. This might be the best way to assure another return trip to the playoffs, something Tannenbaum and Ryan must think about.

And they should also think about all the baby mommas out there too. If they do, they’ll re-sign Cromartie.

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