Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a fun practice on Saturday. He was running around, yelling at teammates, dancing on the field and even giving some play-by-play of the action. Oh, and he was playing pretty well, too.
As the veteran cornerback enters his fourth season with the Giants, he is an elder statesman on the defense — only Mark Herzlich and Jason Pierre-Paul have been here longer than he has on that side of the ball — and a source of knowledge and energy.
“DRC loves to work,” Ben McAdoo said. “He loves football, loves to practice and not just play in the games. He’s a competitor . . . I think that’s great for us. We’re fortunate to have that.”
Funny. Rodgers-Cromartie thinks he’s the fortunate one.
That’s because his fourth season with the Giants will be a bit of a milestone for him. Despite a productive career and nine seasons in the NFL, this year with the Giants will represent his longest stint with any team since college.
A first-round pick by the Cardinals, he played for Arizona for three seasons, was traded to the Eagles for two, played one year for the Broncos and signed with the Giants in 2014. Even when he was in high school, he played for two different schools.
But now, finally, after all the accomplishments and years of wandering, the vagabond career has found something it was always lacking:
When asked if he feels a sense of relief to finally put down roots with a franchise, Rodgers-Cromartie told Newsday, “It definitely does. I been around for a long time and I don’t have to change up too much, just be myself and play my kind of football. They allow me to do that within the system. I appreciate them.”
That was one of the reasons Rodgers-Cromartie signed with the Giants. They gave him a five-year deal when other teams were less focused on longevity. The duration appealed to Rodgers-Cromartie, even though he knew full well that NFL contracts rarely reach their end.
“I didn’t think I’d see all the years that I’ve seen,” he said of his time with the Giants. “But they’re keeping me around, man, so that’s why I’m out here flying around and having fun. Just taking advantage of it.”
That’s because he doesn’t know how much longer it will last. That contract and the salary-cap implications get heavier and heavier each offseason. There was talk this past winter that the Giants might want to relieve some of it by cutting him, even though Rodgers-Cromartie is such a valuable piece of their defense.
His value to the defense showed itself in last season’s playoff loss to the Packers. After Rodgers-Cromartie was injured, the Giants’ secondary played very poorly in the second half.
They have young starting cornerbacks in Eli Apple and Janoris Jenkins on the outside, so Rodgers-Cromartie has developed into such a good slot corner that he went to the Pro Bowl at that position in January.
At age 31, though, he’s starting to feel the effects of his age. While he still wins sprints with teammates — “Every now and then, I’ve got to let them know that,” he said of besting Odell Beckham Jr. and Landon Collins during a conditioning period last week — it’s getting harder and harder to recover after the workouts.
“I’ve got a few left in me, but I can’t pull too much out, so I just give them one,” he said of winning the race. “That’s it.”
Maybe because he’s scarred from so much bouncing around in his career, but it almost sounds as if Rodgers-Cromartie is looking at this season not as a milestone for his longevity with one team but possibly as the end of the road.
That’s an all-too-familiar but unwelcome sensation.
“The thing about football, when you are around guys and you jell and you feel pretty good, then you want to be there,” he said. “And then to get traded or go somewhere with a new team, you have to build that up all over again. It’s hard. It plays on your mind.”
He hasn’t had to do that for a while. He’d prefer never to do it again.
But just in case, he is savoring this experience.
“I’m surrounded by a great group of guys, and I definitely understand that we have the chance to do a lot of great things,” he said. “I’m definitely having fun. I’m going to remember this.”