FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Antonio Cromartie has no hard feelings. Really, he doesn’t.
The fact the New York Jets were looking to bring in Nnamdi Asomugha to replace him? It serves as the ultimate motivator.
“Just know that I have a big chip on my shoulder,” Cromartie said with a slight smile Monday, “and expect something really big this season.”
Cromartie had a solid first season with the Jets after being acquired from San Diego last year, but New York went after Asomugha when free agency began. Cromartie became a free agent, too, but Rex Ryan envisioned a dream secondary with Asomugha teaming with Darrelle Revis, both considered the top players at their position.
Even Revis seemed enamored by the thought, saying last week he “would love” to have Asomugha, a good friend, as a teammate.
“It’s a friendship, and it’s a business,” Cromartie said. “It’s all business, but at the end of the day, me and Darrelle, if anything would have happened, we are going to be friends no matter what. We built that friendship last year.”
But, there was Cromartie, suddenly wondering — he called the process “nerve-racking” — where he would play this season if the Jets landed Asomugha. Instead, the Eagles got Asomugha, and the Jets re-signed Cromartie a few days later to a four-year deal.
“For us, we came to an agreement (Sunday) night,” Cromartie said, “and both sides are just happy to be where we are right now.”
Especially the Jets, who would’ve been in a tough spot if they had lost out on Asomugha, and Cromartie had chosen to sign elsewhere. And, there were other teams who would’ve liked him in their secondary, such as Oakland and San Francisco.
“You have to feel like you’re Plan B,” Revis said of his teammate.
Not so, Cromartie insisted. His ego is just fine.
“I didn’t see it as being a Plan B or anything like that at all,” he said. “Both sides just went out and tested the market and saw what was out there. Of course, they went out after the best player that was out there and that was Nnamdi. There are no hard feelings. That’s part of the business. You want to get the best guys in the building to try to help the team out to win a Super Bowl and that’s the goal here, to go out and win a Super Bowl.”
Ryan said the Jets made one offer to Asomugha and never budged from that. Take it or leave it, the Jets said, and Asomugha flew to the Eagles. So, they turned back to Cromartie, whom they had also been talking to when free agency started.
“We have to have a top-flight corner to play defense the way we like to play,” Ryan said.
Not only that, but Ryan put Cromartie among the top five cornerbacks in the entire league.
“He is a tremendous player,” Ryan said. “When you look at it, it’s not like he’s not a Pro Bowl player himself. He probably has more talent than anybody playing the position, and that includes Revis. So imagine him getting better and improving, where he can go.”
That only makes Cromartie even more confident in his abilities, not that he was really lacking in that area.
“At the end of the day, I still feel like a No. 1 corner or that we have two No. 1 corners on this team,” Cromartie said. “Do I feel that Nnamdi is better than me? No. Are any other corners better than me? No. But that’s the attitude that I have and the confidence that I have in myself. At the end of the day I have a chip on my shoulder just to prove to everybody the ability that I have.
“The faith that this organization has put into me to give me a four-year deal, I just want to prove them right and prove everyone else wrong.”
Cromartie was truly excited to come back, taking a red-eye flight from California early Monday and arriving at the team’s facility just as the first walkthrough of training camp finished.
“Cro is delighted to be back here,” owner Woody Johnson said, adding he was glad in a way the Jets didn’t sign Asomugha. “I’ve never seen a happier guy, with no sleep last night. I think where we ended up is fabulous, and we’re going to be good.”
Cromartie thinks the same of the Jets’ secondary, particularly with him and Revis in their second year working with each other.
“We can be the best in the league,” he said. “The relationship we have all the way around, the whole secondary room, we believe that we can go out and be the best. Darrelle and me feel that we can go out and dominate and even be better than we were last year.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.