After the San Diego Chargers entered cornerback Antonio Cromartie’s name into the trade arena, several names popped up. They were all conjecture, but represented an interesting array of possibilities to help the Chargers both unload a player no longer in the team’s favor, and aid a running game in serious need of someone to eat carries.
Names like Tashard Choice of Dallas and DeAngelo Williams of Carolina provided enticement for fans eager to see the team’s running game emerge out of the basement. If San Diego could find a solid running back to put four yards a carry in exchange for the athletically gifted but inconsistent cornerback, it would be considered a personnel coup.
From the depths of rumor, a name has emerged for a legitimate trade partner willing to take on Cromartie—the Detroit Lions.
Detroit certainly could use an upgrade at corner. In 2009, the team ranked dead last against the pass, giving up an average of 265.6 yards per game. They were one of only two teams (Tennessee being the other) to give up more than 4,000 total passing yards in the regular season.
The downside is that Detroit is not the most well-stocked team when it comes to available trade fodder. The Lions running game ranked only seven places higher than San Diego’s own at 24th in the league.
In 2009, Detroit’s starting running back Kevin Smith managed only 17 yards and one-tenth of a yard per carry more than the player San Diego cut due to waning abilities (Ladainian Tomlinson). Smith’s backup, Maurice Morris has emerged as the primary name in these trade talks. In current talks, Morris would be accompanied by a fourth or fifth-round draft pick in exchange for Cromartie.
Morris is a solid one-cut runner with a good burst and enough size (5'11", 216 pounds), but in his eight years in the league he's failed to lock down a true starter’s role. The closest he has come would be the 2006-2008 seasons, where he averaged roughly 600 yards per year during that span.
The advantage to the deal would be a solid vet who with low mileage (his 697 career attempts represent roughly two seasons from Ladainian Tomlinson’s prime), in addition to landing an extra draft pick to help fill other needs.
The move has its share of concerns, however. Morris is built to be a very good “40” back (the member of a tandem backfield taking the lesser portion of a 60:40 ratio), not a workhorse. His upright running style means he tends to take a fair amount of punishment in addition to limiting his ability to churn out yardage after contact.
Because of this, San Diego’s trading of Cromartie would essentially be opening up a new need while not closing the other. The team would still need to seek out a younger featured back while giving the team no choice but to find another cornerback as well. The team only has two other cornerbacks on the roster, one of which (Antoine Cason) has only two seasons experience, and spent most of 2009 unable to secure a nickel role over safety Steven Gregory.
With strong needs at running back, right tackle, and defensive tackle (to go with a host of smaller needs), San Diego may need to re-evaluate its plan. If a better trade package cannot be found, it might behoove the team to either find the highest draft pick Cromartie could fetch without an attached player, or accept making do with the former first-round choice for a year while filling other critical needs.