NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — From glaring weak spot to sudden strength, the New York Jets' revamped secondary has high hopes.
Comfortably under the salary cap, new general manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles went to work last week and addressed their defensive backs in a big way. They brought back cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, signed former Browns cornerback Buster Skrine, and added former Chargers safety Marcus Gilchrist during the first few days of the NFL's free agency period.
"We all have to come together, play together, and see where it's going to go," Skrine said during a conference call Wednesday. "But, I think we have the potential of being great."
The Jets, who officially announced the signings of Cromartie and Gilchrist on Wednesday, certainly appear in much better shape in the secondary than a week ago.
"It's definitely going to be a bright spot on the team," Skrine said.
New York paid for it to be, spending $127 million on the three new cornerbacks. Revis signed a five-year contract worth $70 million, with $39 million fully guaranteed; Cromartie got a four-year deal worth $32 million in base salary — with a maximum value of $35 million; and Skrine received a four-year, $25 million contract.
"I think it's definitely going to be a bright spot for this team," Skrine said.
That's a far cry from last season, when then-coach Rex Ryan had to wonder nearly every week who he'd have available in his secondary. Dee Milliner, the team's No. 1 draft pick in 2013, and Dexter McDougle, a third-rounder last year, were lost early to season-ending injuries. Veteran Dimitri Patterson was released after being suspended for missing a preseason game without the team's permission.
That had Ryan and former defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman trying to plug holes. They converted safety Antonio Allen to cornerback and started journeyman Phillip Adams, career backup Darrin Walls and undrafted free agent Marcus Williams during the season.
Now, Bowles can envision a secondary that includes Revis and Cromartie, along with Skrine in the slot, pairing with second-year safety Calvin Pryor and Gilchrist, who signed for four years, $22 million.
"It's just a point where you just start adding into the mix guys who can makes plays on the ball, you just look at the potential of how things can be," Cromartie said. "At the same time, we all have to jell together and learn how to play off each other."
Cromartie spent last season under Bowles in Arizona after New York chose to not re-sign him, partly because of some questions about his health after he dealt with a nagging hip ailment. He showed his hip was fine last season — "It's behind me" — and was selected for the Pro Bowl.
"I think the biggest thing was to prove to everybody that when I'm healthy, I can play at a very high level," Cromartie said.
Cromartie, who turns 31 in April, had three interceptions for the Cardinals. He said he considered re-signing with Arizona, and thought about going to Dallas before deciding to return to the Jets. His wife and family commuted to Arizona from their New Jersey home every Sunday to watch him play.
"It ended up working out for the best," Cromartie said. "Like I said earlier during the offseason, if it presented itself and everything was right, this would be an easy choice for me, and I felt like it was. It also was an easy decision for my family, just from looking at kids in school and not moving around a lot. We consider this as being home. If we get the chance, this is a place we'd like to retire."
Skrine, who spent his first four seasons with Cleveland, was the first of the free agents to sign with the Jets — before Revis and Cromartie. He said he was attracted to Bowles' penchant for using man coverage over zones, and thought his versatility — he can play cornerback, nickel and dime, and even safety — made him a perfect fit.
Even with the presence of Revis and Cromartie, Skrine will likely get lots of regular playing time.
"When I first signed, I had heard rumors that Revis might come back," Skrine said. "I was hoping that he came back just so I could be around somebody with lots of experience and left his mark on the game and still making an amazing impact on the game today.
"Just being around him is going to help me as a player."
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