Chargers reach agreement with first-rounder Cromartie

Updated: July 26, 2006, 2:17 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Completing a two-day stretch of breakneck negotiations, the San Diego Chargers on Tuesday evening reached agreement with first-round draft choice Antonio Cromartie, a cornerback from Florida State, on his first NFL contract.

The agreement means that the Chargers, whose rookies reported for work Monday, have accords with all eight of their 2006 selections. All eight deals were struck over the past two days. The team does not officially begin full-squad training camp practices until later in the week, but San Diego still has had just one first-rounder in camp on time since 2001.

The 19th overall selection, Cromartie will sign a five-year contract, the maximum term permitted by the extension to the collective bargaining agreement for a player chosen in the bottom half of the first round. The contract can be worth as much as $12.75 million and includes $7.35 million in guarantees.

San Diego officials and Jason Fletcher, the agent for Cromartie, came close to completing the contract Monday evening but could not finish off all the details. Both sides expressed optimism early Tuesday that an agreement was imminent.

Although Cromartie started in just one game in his three seasons with the Seminoles and is coming off surgery to repair a torn left anterior cruciate ligament that sidelined him for the entire 2005 season, most NFL teams viewed him as a first-round talent. Clearly, the Chargers chose him for the player they feel he will become, not the defender he has been, largely because of injuries.

Cromartie possesses prototype size for the position (6-foot-2, 208 pounds), was timed at 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash during workouts, and had a 38-inch vertical jump. He is not yet listed as a starter but should vie for significant playing time on a defense that statistically ranked 28th versus the pass in 2005.

In addition to his size, Cromartie is very strong in the hands, and he has the kind of power to redirect even the biggest wide receivers. He is quick out of his backpedal but must improve in off-man and zone coverages, and there are times Cromartie doesn't play with great instincts.

In 25 college games, Cromartie totaled 41 tackles, five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and eight passes defensed. He also returned 43 kickoffs for a 23.3-yard average and one score.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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