By Ernie Palladino
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Are you ready for Dee Milliner and whoever manning the corners of the Jets’ secondary?
Probably not. But that’s what you’re likely to get if they don’t at least bring back Antonio Cromartie and maybe, perhaps, take that big financial plunge on returning Darrelle Revis to the old band.
Nothing is going to happen right away, of course. Cromartie, a Pro Bowler in his own right who had what many consider an off year in 2013, will look now that the free agent period has opened. And Revis remains property of the Tampa Bay Bucs, at least until Wednesday when the Bucs are expected to cut him.
Seems Revis didn’t quite take to the idea of taking a massive cut in the $16 million the Bucs owe him over each of the final five years of his contract. So he’ll likely become an ex-Buc by tonight.
The question then becomes, should the Jets try to convince Cromartie to come back at a rate comparable to what he might garner on the open market, and should they break their $40 million salary cap bank on a Revis reunion?
The answer to both is yes and yes.
For an executive trying desperately to get out from the oppressive contracts former GM Mike Tannenbaum saddled him with, John Idzik needs to make these expensive expenditures. Sure, you’d love to have younger, cheaper talent. Everyone wants that lightning-in-a-bottle kid who seemingly comes out of nowhere to have a great career. But they are rare commodities, even on the free-agent market.
Milliner isn’t a fully-developed cornerback yet. He had some rough outings last year and at one point was even benched.
What Idzik does know is that Cromartie probably has another year or two left in the tank. On top of that, history tells us that Cromartie and Revis formed an almost unbeatable cornerback combination. Reuniting that pairing indeed will cost money, but sometimes a team has to unload the Brinks truck even in the face of widespread cost-cutting.
Besides, the Jets do have about $40 million to play with. A little contract creativity could minimize the cap hit for this year, allowing Idzik to sign both corners.
Then, the issue becomes whether Cromartie and Revis even want to get together again. New England will surely be interested in Revis, since the Pats’ own cornerback Aqib Talib headed to Denver. They won’t be shy about purchasing Revis, no matter his asking price.
They could probably trade for Revis, but they’d have to give up plenty. For a team with more offensive holes than a wedge of Swiss — right tackle made the list when they couldn’t come to a long-term agreement with Austin Howard — there’s not a lot of material there. And to weaken the defense, by far the strongest part of this team even without Cromartie, would be foolish.
Idzik’s best play here would be to re-sign Cromartie and grab Revis if the Bucs cut him. There’s a lot to be said for new, younger blood. But sometimes the old tried-and-true stuff better works to one’s advantage, especially for a team in a playoff drought.
Even in their search for cheap, usable talent, the Jets would do well to spend as much as they need to in this one case. After all, Geno Smith isn’t going to take them anywhere on his own. They need a shutdown duo on defense.
Revis-Cromartie had been as much of a can’t-miss combination as any cornerback tandem in the NFL. They could be that again.
The only way to find out is to spend enough to get the old band back together.
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