Over the last few days, I've gotten a lot of calls, txts, e-mails and tweets asking me what my problem is with Vincent Jackson. Why am I so desperate to trade him? Usually my argument with the person fizzles somewhere around "Buster Davis", but there's a very important point that I'd like to make clearer to everyone. We'll use a metaphor.
Let's imagine you're the Vice President of a major corporation. You're one of the best VPs in the world and your company is having great success because of your creative ideas and management skills. As part of your job, once a year you're required to give a speech to your company's shareholders. For the past two seasons, as great as you've been in your day-to-day job, the speech has not gone as planned. The first time you gave the speech drunk and fell off the stage. Last year you got drunk the night before and showed up in tattered clothes with a black eye. Do you keep your job? Do you get a raise and a guarantee that the job is yours for another 5 years?
Of course you don't. You get fired. The President of the company looks at all the good you do for the company and says "it's just not worth it." The shareholders have almost no confidence in you because what you continue to show is a lack of maturity. It makes more sense to bring in a guy that can do 80% of what you can in the day-to-day work, as long as he's guaranteed to be professional during the most important day of his job each year.
Get it? I realize how valuable Vincent Jackson is when he's on the field, but if I was a GM the last thing I would do is give a long-term, big-money contract to a guy that has wound up in handcuffs during each of the last two playoffs. That's why I would look at his current value (possibly the highest it will ever be) and see how he might be able to fill some other holes we have.
Now, moving on to Antonio Cromartie. "Cro" is being dangled by the Chargers, he's essentially on the trading block, if they could get a good-value RB in return. The reasons for this actually have little to do with Cro's off-the-field issues (which are numerous). Here are the main ones:
Antoine Cason - I've tried enough times to realize that nobody wants to listen to me when I tell them that Cason is a good CB, but one that's ill-fitted for the Nickel Corner position. So I'll let Kevin Acee tell you the exact same thing:
Cason is the one. There is a difference between nickel and corner. The nickel back doesn't get to use the sideline, has more space and more varied plays/players to worry about. As for Cason's 2009, it was a weird deal. He had a great spring and good summer and then made some mistakes early on. I think the coaches gave up on him too early and didn't handle it all that well, but it's hard to argue when they won 11 straight games beginning with Cason's benching and Gregory insertion. However, they are making plans for Cason to be the man in '10.
Before Cason was benched this year, everyone was a huge fan of his. He is a playmaker just like Cromartie, with hands and speed to turn bad throws into defensive touchdowns, and is a better tackler than Antonio. The team knows this, and they know how much he's getting paid, and they're eager to get him on the field in a position where he can succeed.
Money - Cromartie is going to want a lot of money when his contract is up next season. He's going to want to be one of the top-paid CBs in the league, because he has the potential to be. The problem here is two-fold. For one, if the Chargers were to keep him and pay him that would mean they were paying Cason first-round money to sit on the bench for at least two more years. Two, it's still all about potential with Cromartie. He was fantastic in 2007, the league figured him out a little bit after that, and he's been pretty average since. He showed improvement from 2008 to 2009, and you could make the case that he will continue to improve....but there's no guarantee of that. Does his potential warrant him top-CB money?
Value - Not only is there a severe lack of shutdown CBs in the league this days, which means there's a lot of shoppers for a guy with Cromartie's talent, but this trade could end up being a low-risk one. Although Cromartie's potential says he should be worth a first-round draft pick or starting RB in return, mix that with his actual results and he's probably worth a second-rounder of a backup RB with good stats. With one year left on his deal, a team with good RB depth could send a backup RB to San Diego and in exchange get a chance to see if Cromartie's performance is any better in their system and with their coaches.
After that first year, if he doesn't improve at all, the team could choose to let him walk or negotiate with him a contract based more on his actual performance rather than his potential. A team could essentially give up a player or a pick to "test drive" a possible shutdown CB.
So, who are the possible suitors? Well we have to look for teams who struggled stopping the pass last season. Then we'll see if we can narrow it down based on who the Chargers wouldn't want to trade him to and who has the best RB depth.
Well, there's a few teams on there we can take off right away. The Chargers won't be sending Cromartie to Kansas City or Pittsburgh, to avoid having to face him in the future. Because of the Final Eight Plan, the Saints are limited in what they can do in free agency and with trades....so we can take them off as well. Let's see what that leaves us with.
I bet we could get rid of a couple more here if we tried. The Dolphins already have two young, talented CBs and Cromartie is exactly the type of player Parcells hates (afraid to hit). They're off. I'd be willing to bet that Singletary and Spagnola wouldn't like a CB that doesn't tackle either, so let's take them off. Fisher and Schwartz probably wouldn't be big fans, but I think they'd be willing to deal with it....so we'll leave them on for now. Now we're down to 8 possible trading partners.
Let's examine each one a little closer.
Lions - Their depth at RB is just about as bad as their depth at CB. Philip Buchanon and William James should probably not be starting in the NFL. They could definitely use somebody like Cromartie to cover the studs in their division (Greg Jennings, Sidney Rice), but to do so they'd probably have to send the Chargers their 2nd round pick (34th overall). I like this trade for both teams.
Titans - They desperately need a CB on the opposite side of the field from Cortland Finnegan. Enough that Jeff Fisher (a former hard-nosed CB) might look past Cromartie's unwillingness to tackle. LenDale White is a RFA who played his college football in southern California. A straight-up trade of Cromartie for White seems a little uneven, but if the Titans were to throw in a 3rd or 4th round pick it would seem doable. White knows he has no chance of getting carries behind Chris Johnson (and he's not too happy about it), but he's always been a pretty good RB with a nose for the endzone. If the 2010 Chargers had him sharing carries with a rookie RB, it could be "Thunder and Lightning" all over again.
Seahawks - This one is a bit of a longshot. As bad as their pass defense was this year, their CBs are probably not the problem. Their Safeties and LBs are where they have issues. Also, their RB depth is poor. For them to give up a 2nd round pick for Cromartie, when they already have a secondary full of players with potential, seems unlikely.
Browns - The Browns intrigue me this offseason simply because of Mike Holmgren. As big of a name and voice as he is, Mike has never been a very patient man. I doubt he'll want to hear the naysayers at the end of the year asking "Did he really change anything?" He'll want to make a big splash. The Browns are young at CB, but could probably use an improvement in talent there. I don't love any of their RBs, but their 6th pick in the 2nd round would probably be enough to get Cromartie away from the Chargers. With players like Santonio Holmes, Derrick Mason and Chad Ochocinco in the division, the Browns need somebody that can play man-to-man.
Falcons - I don't know if you watched any of the 2009 Falcons, but I did. Moreso than any other team, it was painfully obvious that this was a team held back by it's awful secondary. They need CBs in the worst way, and they offer an opportunity for Antonio to be closer to his hometown. Jerious Norwood is their backup for Michael Turner, who they obviously think of as a "workhorse RB", but didn't get the starts when Turner went down with an injury last year. His future in Atlanta is that of a 3rd down back, but in San Diego (who pass more often) he'd be a good fit as the starting RB. Before 2009, when his carries went down, he never averaged less than 5 YPC and twice was over 6 YPC.
Cromartie for Norwood, to me, seems like the best match. Cromartie would be happy, the Falcons would get what they desperately need and the Chargers would get a RB that could immediately come in as the starter (and split carries with a rookie). I think they're about equal in terms of value too, but if you don't I bet Atlanta would be willing to throw in a 4th or 5th round pick to even things out. There's not a lot of reason for them to keep a player like him around when he's such a bad fit for their power-running offense.
Jaguars - Another team, like the Titans, that has 1 good CB and it doesn't matter because the other CB is so bad. Teams just attack whoever isn't Rashean Mathis and it seems quite easy. Bringing in Cromartie to man that position opposite of Mathis would go a long way towards restoring the Jags as one of the top defensive teams in the league. The two RBs they have are Maurice Jones-Drew (who is untouchable) and Rashad Jennings (who was very good as a rookie last year). I doubt they'd give up either one, and they don't have a 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft. If they really wanted Cromartie, and I think they might just prefer to try to draft a CB, they'd probably have to give up a 2nd round pick in 2011 and something this year as well (4th round pick?). While this might be a decent fit on paper, I don't see how they make it work.
Cardinals - Here's where everyone starts telling me I'm nuts again. I've been floating this idea around for the past few days of a trade between the Cardinals and Chargers. Something like Vincent Jackson and Antonio Cromartie for Anquan Boldin, Tim Hightower and a pick (4th rounder?). I think Hightower is a good back for 10 carries a game, and I've always been a big fan of Boldin's (reminds me of Brandon Marshall). This solves the VJ problem, solves half of the RB problem, sorts out the secondary and gives the Chargers an extra pick in the draft (in one of the rounds where AJ likes to find hidden treasures).
The Cardinals certainly have the depth at RB, and are probably eager to free up more carries for Beanie Wells. Bryant McFadden is good, but not great, at CB and the idea of having the Cromartie cousins in the same secondary writes it's own marketing. Do they need another CB? Probably not, but if you're swapping Jackson and Boldin it might be worth it for them to take Cromartie and see if it helps make their secondary more consistent. An interesting, but unlikely, trade scenario.
Cowboys - We've been over this before. I don't see if happening. Tashard Choice is the RB that everyone wants, but he's also the most complete RB on the Cowboys. Marion Barber is the one they probably want to trade away, but his contract pays him more than what he's probably worth (especially now that he seems to be dealing with the repercussions of all those big hits).
Also, the Cowboys have a lot of talent at CB. Mike Jenkins was great in 2009, Terrence Newman wasn't that bad and Orlando Scandrick is a very good player. If they were to acquire Cromartie, they'd have to move one of those guys. The only way the Chargers get Choice is if they trade for him using one of their draft picks. This is not a logical place for Cromartie to end up.
Ravens - I know they're not on the list, but I know somebody is going to bring them up as a possible trade partner. One, you're trading to an AFC team that's consistently in the playoffs. That's always bad news. Two, Willis McGahee has high mileage on him. Three, Ozzie Newsome much prefers to build through the draft and free agency rather than via trade (has he ever made a trade?). Four, their second round pick is late in the round. I just don't see a way that it gets done.
So what do you guys think? I think Falcons or Titans make the most sense. I like the idea of drafting a rookie RB in the 2nd or 3rd round and having him split carries with either LenDale White or Jerious Norwood. Give me your ideas (either teams to trade with or players to trade for using Cromartie) in the comments section.