Antonio Cromartie's Release Positions Jets to Be Buyers in Free-Agent Market

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Antonio Cromartie's Release Positions Jets to Be Buyers in Free-Agent Market
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General manager John Idzik has slowly pulled the New York Jets out of salary-cap purgatory, but as of Sunday morning, there were still three bad contracts left on the docket. 

The Jets knocked that number down to two after announcing the release of cornerback Antonio Cromartie on Sunday afternoon. The move clears $9.5 million in salary-cap space; his 2014 cap hit of $14.98 million is reduced to just $5.48 million in dead money. He was scheduled to earn a $5 million roster bonus shortly after the league year begins (March 11), so the Jets avoided paying that fee by making the move now.

They now have $31.9 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.

There was speculation that the Jets might release Cromartie and try to bring him back at a reduced rate, but it appears his time in New York is over. He and Jets head coach Rex Ryan exchanged pleasantries that suggest there was no alternative on the table:

Cromartie, 29, came to the Jets via a trade with the San Diego Chargers. The eight-year veteran lasted four years in New York after spending the first four years with the Chargers. 

Instead of bringing him back, it appears the Jets will put the money to use in other ways. Seth Walder of the New York Daily News reports that the Jets showed interest in Tennessee Titans free-agent cornerback Alterraun Verner. 

If the Jets are able to sign Verner for $8 million per year—which is what cornerback Brent Grimes got from the Miami Dolphins last week—they could pay Verner for two years ($16 million) at almost the same rate they would have been paying Cromartie for one. 

There are other needs the Jets could address with their moneyThey still need a wide receiver, pass-rushing outside linebacker, safety, tight end and backup quarterback. They could also be in search of a right guard and right tackle, if they lose respective starters Willie Colon and Austin Howard to free agency. 

Unless the Jets are comfortable with a major shift in the depth chart, you can add cornerback to that list of needs.

New York Jets Cornerback Depth Chart, Post-Cromartie
Player Height Weight Experience Free agent 2013 snaps
Dee Milliner 6'0" 201 1 2017 747
Kyle Wilson 5'10 190 4 2015 480
Darrin Walls 6'0" 190 3 2016 292
Isaiah Trufant 5'8" 170 3 FA 72
Ellis Lankster 5'9" 190 4 2016 30
Aaron Berry 5'11" 180 4 FA 0

Source: NewYorkJets.com; ProFootballFocus.com

Dee Milliner, the first player the Jets selected in 2013, could enter the 2014 season as the No. 1 cornerback on the depth chart. Milliner was very inconsistent during the season and was benched in three different games due to poor play.

However, he finished the year on a high note by winning the Defensive Rookie of the Month award for the month of December. He earned every bit of it by locking down Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (five passes defensed and an interception) and Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace (five passes defensed and two interceptions) in the final two games of the season.

Fifth-year cornerback Kyle Wilson is entering the final season of his rookie contract, so this could be a show-and-prove year for him. His play has been the subject of much grief among Jets fans, as has his patented finger-wag.

He played 279 of his 356 coverage snaps (78.4 percent) in the slot last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). As a result of the vacancy, he could be asked to line up more frequently on the perimeter, where he has struggled in the past.

Ellis Lankster and Darrin Walls both signed two-year deals last week and could be in line for an increase in snaps as well.  

Everyone moves up a rung on the depth chart, but the Jets could rectify the situation if they're able to lure one of the top free-agent cornerbacks to New York. Releasing Cromartie just happens to be the move that gives them the freedom and ability to address his departure.

 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or via team news releases.

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