New Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie (right) shares a laugh with team president Michael Bidwill Thursday while signing his new one-year contract with the team.
Steve Keim liked the idea of bringing in a player "with a chip on his shoulder," but through a smile, Antonio Cromartie insisted that wasn't the case.
"Don't see it as a chip," said Cromartie, the Pro Bowl cornerback who signed a one-year contract with the Cardinals Thursday after being cut by the New York Jets March 9. "Is it motivation? Yes. Big-time motivation. You don't get many phone calls.
"But (it's also) motivation because you are part of a team that's right where you need to be. Big-time contending team."
"Fit" is an adjective often used in free agent signings, but rarely does it make as much sense as the marriage between
Cromartie and the Cardinals. Keim, the team's general manager, wanted a big, physical press cornerback to pair with Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson. Cromartie needed a place to land after getting surprisingly little interest after he hit the free agent market.
The deal looks a lot like the one veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby signed a year ago with the Cards. It's worth a reported $3.25 million salary, with the chance to make another $500,000 if he can play every game – important after dealing with a nagging hip flexor strain last season in New York.
Keim said Cromartie checked out medically, and Cromartie said he feels fine, having gone through a workout Thursday morning before agreeing to the deal and flying to Arizona for a press conference.
"You feel good about a guy who has a chip on his shoulder, has huge upside, has all the physical tools and has played at a high level," Keim said. "Now we bring him in on a one-year deal where he is ready to prove to the NFL and the world he is still the same kind of guy."
Cromartie shrugged off questions about going back to the Jets, saying he wasn't surprised the team didn't try to re-sign him even as league-wide interest waned. "It's part of the business," he said.
In fact, the Cardinals were apparently the only team that chased him, something Cromartie didn't have an answer for. Maybe it was his age (he turns 30 next month) or questions about the hip, he said.
Not that it mattered. The Cardinals brought him in for a visit late last week and stayed
aggressive in their pursuit, Keim said. When Cromartie's decision remained unsaid, Keim said he "tried to turn up the heat" by bringing in fellow free agent cornerback Mike Jenkins for a visit.
But Cromartie was always the goal, and Keim made sure he knew that. Cromartie said his delay was mostly about including his wife in the decision-making process, especially with a family to bring cross country for what might only be one season.
It didn't hurt that Cromartie left his Arizona visit with a great feeling, not surprising with the personalities of Keim and coach Bruce Arians.
"They did a good job trying to recruit and making me feel comfortable," Cromartie said. "My visit, it was like I had been here two or three years already."
Even Thursday Cromartie looked at ease with team president Michael Bidwill, who took part in the press conference with Keim and Arians out of town, trading smiles. Cromartie even mentioned one of Bidwill's favorite topics, the possibility of the Cardinals playing a Super Bowl in their own stadium this season.
The Cards can now move 2013 starter Jerraud Powers inside with Tyrann Mathieu, upgrading the team's cover ability overall. The Cardinals did not try to bring back a pair of veteran free agent cornerbacks in Javier Arenas – who signed with Atlanta – and Antoine Cason – who is reportedly headed to Carolina.
Instead, they have Justin Bethel and Bryan McCann who can work with the core four. Mathieu is rehabbing from a torn ACL that is expected to keep him out until the beginning of the regular season at least, although his timetable to get back on the field remains fluid. But Powers gives them a good nickel corner to put with Peterson and Cromartie regardless.
Cromartie, a 2006 No. 1 draft pick of the San Diego Chargers, has made three Pro Bowls total. He started all 16 games for New York last season despite battling a hip problem, and made three interceptions with 37 tackles and eight passes defensed.
Keim said Cardinals cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross, who was Cromartie's coach when both were in San Diego, said Cromartie spends a ton of time at the facility studying video. That's the kind of player Keim embraces.
Cromartie's new teammates, meanwhile, just know they are adding a major talent.
"It's about to be trouble, trouble, trouble," Peterson wrote on Twitter.
"It's great to have my brother @CRO31 joining the #birdgang family," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald tweeted. "Our team is steadily improving and I couldn't be more excited."