FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - This wasn't the way Antonio Cromartie had envisioned the season going -- not for his team, not for himself.
The cornerback really did think the Jets had a legitimate shot at the playoffs, even with all the changes from the offseason and the rampant skepticism from those outside the locker room. And he'd hoped to have the best year of his career at a time when the Jets needed it most -- in Year 1 of the post-Darrelle Revis era.
But neither scenario materialized.
The Jets failed to follow up on a surprising 5-4 start and were eliminated from playoff contention Monday. And Cromartie, who battled a hip problem that traced back to his early days with the Chargers, didn't have the kind of season he anticipated. Especially after playing so well last year and providing a certain comfort level within the organization that Revis wouldn't be missed as much as some had feared.
The hip problem has settled down in recent weeks, and Cromartie said he feels as good now as he's felt all season. Even so, he told me there's still a possibility he'll have the problem surgically repaired in the offseason.
"I'll find out once I get an MRI after the season,'' Cromartie told me Thursday afternoon. "I've never had it fixed, so yeah, this would be the first time if I did have surgery on it.''
But he doesn't believe surgery would prevent him from playing at a high level; in fact, addressing the problem actually might help him moving forward. And though he turns 30 in April, Cromartie believes there's still plenty of good football left in him.
And despite the possibility of a head-coaching change and a potential roster purge, he believes that all that good football will be played with the Jets.
"I expect to be here, yeah,'' he said. "It's my eighth year, I have a big bonus coming in March, which is not guaranteed, but still, I expect to be here. I want to be here. This is where I want to finish my career, and that's it.''
Regardless of who's coaching the team, there's no reason Cromartie shouldn't be part of the solution. With good cornerbacks playing well into their 30s, Cromartie still is a viable solution for at least the next three or four years.
He's signed through the end of next season and is due to receive a $5-million roster bonus in March. His base salary is $4.3 million next year. The $9.3-million commitment is well under the $14.5 million Revis is due in Tampa each of the next five seasons. And from the way Cromartie sounds, he'd probably be willing to agree to a relatively affordable contract extension before his current deal runs out.
Especially given that he understands that this wasn't the kind of year he expected from himself or his team.
"Did I have the season I would have liked to have? No,'' he said. "Playing with this nagging hip injury, but that's not an excuse. I don't try to look at it like that, but it's a business at the same time.''
Even though the Jets have two meaningless games ahead as far as playoff implications, Cromartie said it's important for everyone -- especially himself.
"The only thing I can control is what I do these next two weeks,'' he said. "I have no control over anything else besides what I do in the film room, practice and during the games. We've got a couple of chances to get some wins. We all want that to happen. It wasn't the kind of season we wanted as far as the record goes, but there's always something to play for.''
Cromartie has emerged as an unlikely leader during his time with the Jets. He was traded from San Diego before the 2010 season and helped the Jets to a second consecutive AFC Championship Game appearance. It was during that season when he famously -- and very publicly -- pronounced his unprintable disdain for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. But he since has smoothed out the edges of his personality, become an example of fiscal responsibility to his teammates by changing his once profligate lifestyle, and now is considered one of the team's most important veteran leaders.
It would behoove the Jets to keep him around well beyond this season no matter who's coaching the team. As long as he gets the hip problem addressed -- and there's no expectation of a setback, even if he does have surgery -- then Cromartie will be good to go. No reason he shouldn't be able to finish out his career where he wants: right here.