While it is not entirely unexpected that the San Diego Chargers are shopping athletic cornerback Antonio Cromartie, it does throw an interesting wrinkle into the team’s overall outlook this offseason.
The potential suitors and what player they may land has been discussed frequently since the team made it known that Cromartie was being used as trade fodder, primarily to try and land a running back. What hasn’t seen as much attention is how it could reshape team needs.
Assuming San Diego can secure a starting running back via trade, it now becomes highly unlikely San Diego would seek anything more than later mid-round insurance at running back when the draft rolls around.
Possible names would be highly dependent on the type of back landed in trade. Assuming the body type/running style of a Tashard Choice or Deangelo Williams is landed, the team could either opt for a very large short yardage specialist, or allow Sproles to walk for a draft pick and get a return-man/speedster.
Beyond the massive number of running back scenarios this situation creates, it changes the outlook of the team’s early draft picks considerably. The team would grow perilously thin at a cornerback position already lacking in depth.
With Cromartie gone, the team would have the solid Quentin Jammer on one side, 2008 first round draft pick Antoine Cason opposite, and no one else.
Cason may evolve into a solid starter. Cornerbacks generally take a few years to truly adapt to play at the NFL level, but he showed little in 2009 to instill confidence as the opening day starter of the 2010 NFL season.
How the team addresses the new hole in the lineup will be a curious development. Despite the allowance as a five-to-eight ranked team to land one big-ticket free agent, San Diego is almost assuredly not going after Leigh Bodden or Dunta Robinson.
One possibility would be going after a cheaper stop-gap starter that is a little older, still unrestricted, but won’t break the team’s budget like an elite corner. Players like Ken Lucas, Ralph Brown, or Anthony Henry could step into the starting role for a year or two and allow the team to try and develop Cason while addressing other needs in the draft.
The downside of the move would be possibly paying above value in a restriction-diluted free agent market, and the fact that an older player would then need to be replaced shortly down the road.
If San Diego does not find itself a veteran presence, they would have to seek out a cornerback via the draft. Even if the team is content to start Cason, they need at least one name behind him on the depth chart, both to protect against injury and push the former Arizona Wildcat.
The draft has some solid choices projected to go in the late first or early second round. Michigan junior Donovan Warren may send up a red flag with his shorter college experience possibly upping the learning curve.
If drafting high, San Diego would rather find someone with a greater chance at immediate returns. Kyle Wilson could contribute both in the return game, and as a defensive back. His 10 passes broken up and five interceptions show solid coverage skills, though he is something of a gambler at times.
If the team elects to go tackle (offensive or defensive) in the first round, Brandon Ghee could fill the team’s needs in the second. He lost most of spring due to a sprained knee, but stepped in and emerged as a solid cover corner for Wake Forest. He is not the ballhawk of a Wilson (or Cromartie for that matter), but is a good physical corner with shut-down abilities.
Day one draft picks are not guaranteed however. Antoine Cason himself was a first round choice that has flirted in and out of the nickel position. In 2003, the team drafted three defensive backs in the first two rounds, with only second-rounder Drayton Florence showing anything at the NFL level.
Should the team feel confident enough in Cason’s abilities to wait for mid rounds, the deep cornerback class could land the team a solid bargain. A player like Amari Spievey could find himself dropping a round or two below value just by virtue of the number of corners ahead of him.
If San Diego can find a mid-round gem out of the talented class, the Cromartie trade could prove to be one of the team’s best roster moves in several years. The flip to this of course, would be the team finding itself in a wash, dropping a high pick formerly reserved for a running back and hoping that draftee has a shorter development time than Cason.
If nothing else, the roster shakeup should make things interesting, as well as throw nearly every San Diego mock draft to the scrap heap.
Stay tuned to see just how it all shakes out.