Antonio Cromartie leaves the Jets facility on April 15. In a Prius. Really. (AP)
Through most of his first seven years in the NFL. New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie was the league's poster child for irresponsibility. The 2006 first-round pick of the San Diego Chargers spent, by his own estimation, at least $5 million in his first two NFL seasons, and fathered 10 children with eight different women -- so many children, he famously had trouble remembering all their names in one of the 2010 "Hard Knocks" episodes featuring the Jets. In 2011, Cromartie signed a four-year, $32 million contract that had the team thinking of jettisoning him two years later -- but with the April trade of Darrelle Revis, Cromartie is locked in as the Jets' lockdown cornerback, for better or worse.
What's unusual about Cromartie's current situation is that he's made a lot of positive changes in his life over the last couple years. He has two daughters with his wife, Terricka, and the former profligate spender has put things in order, financially. The same guy who once owned two Dodge Chargers, two BMWs, two Escalades, and a 1965 Chevy Caprice (estimated cost: at least $400,000 total) and had to be talked out of purchasing a $500,000 Lamborghini, is now driving a Prius, per an intriguing story from Newsday's Bob Glauber. Now, Cromartie counsels younger players, warning them to avoid his past mistakes.
"I want to help others learn from what I did wrong," he told Glauber. "I tell the young guys, 'Don't spend any money the first year and a half of your career. You don't know what will happen after that. You might be released. You might be hurt. Just save your money."
It's important advice. As Glauber points out, a 2009 Sports Illustrated survey indicated that nearly 80 percent of former NFL players -- even the most highly-compensated ones -- will go into bankruptcy.
Cromartie started avoiding that seeming inevitability a few years ago when his then-agent, the late Gary Wichard, recommended that he talk to Jonathan Schwartz, a CPA with the Los Angeles-based financial services company GSO Business Management. Schwartz not only encouraged Cromartie to be smarter with his money, he also showed the NFL veteran just how to do it. Schwartz, who is married with three children, invited Cromartie to stay at his home for a few weeks.
"[Cromartie] didn't surround himself with caring and loving people, and I wanted him to see me and my family and realize I cared about him. I wanted him to see a family life," Schwartz told Glauber. "My intention was to show him that there are people who love you for who you are, not for how much you make. When I first met him, I saw a wonderful heart and human being that people were taking advantage of, and I wanted to be a part of seeing his personal growth. Part of that is financial discipline."
That changed a lot of lives. Cromartie became very close to Schwartz's children (they refer to him as "Uncle Antonio," per Glauber), and he agreed to follow a far more responsible financial paradigm.
Schwartz set up a program where Cromartie's salary goes to his office, and Schwartz and his staff pay all the bills and put money into Cromartie's investments, all the while providing Cromartie with monthly reports to show where the money goes. The arrangement includes monthly child support payments for each of Cromartie's children, all of whom will be provided for through college. Cromartie remains active in the lives of all his children and he sees them regularly.
Now, according to Schwartz. Cromartie's retirement is funded through age 100, and his money will be multi-generational.
Just as importantly, given the recent stories of St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin and Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith, anyone coming to Cromartie looking for money will have to go through Schwartz as a matter of course. It's a simple system, set up to shield Cromartie from those "family members" who show up at the most mysterious times when the money starts rolling in.
"I tell Cro, 'If a friend or family member to borrow money, have them call me,'" Schwartz said. "I'll often say, 'Antonio has good intentions. However, at this time, I've earmarked his money for other things and we don't have that readily available.' For the most part, they don't call back."
It's great that Cromartie has finally figured things out, and his story should be a beacon to a lot of young players. That money you have now can literally disappear overnight, and if you don't have someone with your best interests at heart in charge of it, you'll be alone and broke much, much sooner than you could have ever imagined.
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- Antonio Cromartie