Cornerback Antonio Cromartie looks to jam wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald off the line during a training camp practice.
Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman kept the entertainment level high this offseason by lobbing barbs back and forth, each claiming they were the NFL's best cornerback.
That position must have a proclivity for confidence, because others also piped up. New England's Darrelle Revis believes he's still on top. Cleveland's Joe Haden laid claim. The Jets' Dee Milliner even threw himself into the ring.
And, during an appearance on NFL Total Access on the NFL Network in June, the Cardinals' other cornerback, Antonio Cromartie, made sure he was part of the discussion.
"Hold on, I got a question," Cromartie said on the show, as poll results for best cornerback featuring Sherman, Peterson, Haden and Revis were displayed. "Where's my name?"
During the segment, Cromartie pointed out he and Revis have been manning the position for much longer than the
other three, and that overall body of work must be considered. He's watched plenty of cornerbacks flash potential before fizzling.
"There are a couple guys who do it for a year or two, and then that'll be it," Cromartie said at training camp this week. "I was talking about the longevity of a career. With me and Darrelle, and even if you add (Denver's) Aqib Talib and all those guys to the mix, it's just doing it over your whole career, not a couple years."
It's hard to argue with Cromartie's career accomplishments to date. He led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2007 and has totaled 28 in his career, tenth among active players. He's been to three Pro Bowls and paired with Revis as a shutdown duo in New York for three seasons.
Now, though, Cromartie is 30 and coming off a hip injury which limited his productivity in 2013. He made the Pro Bowl and nabbed three interceptions, but according to Pro Football Focus, was ranked 103rd out of 110 cornerbacks in the NFL. In 2012, he was ranked 16th using the same methodology.
Cromartie was released by the Jets on March 9 and signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Cardinals which resembles linebacker Karlos Dansby's short "prove-it" contract of a season ago. Dansby had a great year and parlayed
it into a four-year, $24 million contract from the Browns this offseason.
The Cardinals and Cromartie would love to see a similar outcome.
"I don't think I have anything to prove to the NFL, I just want to prove it to myself," Cromartie said. "Go out there knowing I'm healthy and go out and play football the best way I know how."
Cromartie said the hip feels "great," although a non-related pectoral injury will sideline him for the next four or five days. He is confident injuries were the biggest factor in last season's decline, and that health will bring along his old standard.
The presence of a rejuvenated Cromartie and Peterson together has great potential. Both have shown the ability to limit receivers in one-on-one situations, and if they can regularly do so in concert this year, it gives defensive coordinator Todd Bowles free reign to draw up exotic schemes.
"If they do their job at a high level, we'll be able to blitz a lot more, get a lot more sacks and cause a lot more havoc in the backfield," defensive end Calais Campbell said.
After Cromartie was released by the Jets, he thought deeply about his next destination. One factor was climate. After four seasons in New York, he was ready for a warmer location. More importantly, he checked out the roster composition. Cromartie saw a Cardinals team that went 10-6 last year with potential for more in 2014.
"You look at the team, and you look at the scheme," Cromartie said, "and it makes it very attractive."
It's been an easy transition for him into the new locker room. Cromartie knew many of the players and coaches beforehand through pre-existing relationships, and brings in the confidence of a seasoned veteran.
"We call him talk-a-lot," Peterson said. "He has a very bright personality. We're happy to have him in our locker room and on our side. Him and (cornerbacks coach) Kevin Ross, they get into it almost every single day because they've been together in San Diego. He had the opportunity to watch him grow into the athlete and cornerback he is today. It's fun to have him in our locker room. He brings a lot of energy to the room."
The market was lukewarm for Cromartie as a free agent, but General Manager Steve Keim has made a habit of striking gold with these short veteran deals. Dansby, linebacker John Abraham and tackle Eric Winston were bargain finds last year, and the team hopes for much of the same from Cromartie.
He doesn't have to be the best cornerback in the NFL, but if Cromartie can return to previous form, it gives the team a top-flight duo at the position and flexibility on defense.
"I know what my abilities are, and this organization knows it too," Cromartie said. "I'm definitely not done."
Images from the first padded practice of 2014 training camp