Monday, March 8, 2010

Jets use free agency to bolster secondary

As the league's top pass defense, you would think that one of the New York Jets' strengths would be their secondary. Outside of All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, you wouldn't have been any more wrong.

The Jets struggled all season to find a cornerback to play opposite Revis, something everybody in the NFL saw in the AFC Championship game against Indianapolis. Enter Antonio Cromartie. The ex-Chargers playmaker will now don a Jets uniform at the small price of a third-round pick in this year's draft.

Cromartie represents a significant upgrade over the recently-released Lito Sheppard and Dwight Lowery, who seems better suited as a nickel back at this point in his career. The Jets top pass defense was a result of their aggressive, blitzing style that forced opposing quarterbacks out of rhythm and the addition of Cromartie should allow the Jets to create even more pressure up front and rely more heavily on man coverage in the secondary.

The second move the Jets made was trading safety Kerry Rhodes to the Cardinals for a fourth-round pick and a 2011 seventh-rounder. Rhodes was a big disappointment this season, as many expected him to thrive in new coach Rex Ryan's aggressive defense. Instead, Rhodes seemed uncomfortable and was eventually benched in favor of Eric Smith.

Last season was the first of Rhodes' career where he did not record a sack and his second straight without forcing a fumble, a far cry from his first three seasons in the league where he registered 10 interceptions, 8 sacks and 6 forced fumbles. Once regarded as one of the NFL's best playmaking safeties, the reason many thought he would thrive under Ryan, Rhodes will now try to take advantage of a fresh start in Arizona.

Rhodes hasn't always had the reputation of being a hard worker and it might be no coincidence that his play has fallen off since signing a huge contract before the 2008 season. Two disappointing seasons later, he will now be asked to fill the impressive shoes of Antrel Rolle, who left for New York's other team.

Many thought the Jets would be targeting a cornerback in the draft this season, but the trade for Cromartie changes that dynamic drastically. The Jets will definitely be looking to upgrade the free safety position to complement Revis, Cromartie and Jim Leonhard.

If they are able to shore up the final hole in their secondary, their defense could be even better than it was last season. With another year under the belt of Mark Sanchez and the potential addition of a big-name wide receiver, it would be a mistake to think the Jets can't soar to new heights in 2010.

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