It's time for Jets to pay or part ways

The New York Jets' 2010 offseason was all about creativity, Mike Tannenbaum's ability to acquire talented players despite the "Final Eight" restrictions.

Now it's about commitment.

In NFL-speak, commitment means money, and the Jets will have to open the checkbook if they want to retain wide receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, two of last year's marquee pickups.

Tannenbaum, the Jets' savvy general manager, traded for Holmes and Cromartie -- players with off-the-field baggage -- when they were in the final years of their contracts. There was some risk involved, to be sure, but the potential downside was minimal because there was no financial commitment beyond 2010. Both players arrived with very affordable contracts.

Now it's a different story.

With both players headed to free agency, the Jets will have to make the kind of decisions that can affect the organization for years to come. Let's throw wide receiver Braylon Edwards into this group, too, because he came in 2009 on a one-year contract. They retained him for 2010 on a one-year deal because the free-agency rules provided that option.

No one can predict the landscape in 2011 because of the labor uncertainty, but there's always the chance Edwards, Cromartie and Holmes will be allowed to hit the open market -- and it would take more than one-year deals to keep them around.

In other words, Tannenbaum can't rent anymore. He has to buy or say goodbye.

These choices are complicated by each players' off-the-field problems. Edwards has a drunken-driving charge hanging over his head, Holmes is one strike away from a one-year, substance-abuse suspension, and Cromartie -- he of the previous paternity issues -- raised eyebrows among people in the organization with his recent, expletive-filled rants against Tom Brady and the two sides of the sport's labor strife.

Based on performance alone, all three players deserve long-term deals.

Edwards was the Jets' most consistent receiver, dropping only one pass and elevating his game down the stretch.

Holmes was a game changer, scoring eight touchdowns in 15 games (including the playoffs) after returning from his four-game suspension.

Cromartie allowed a team-high seven touchdown passes in the regular season, according to Stats LLC, but part of that could be attributed to having to play across from Darrelle Revis. For the most part, Cromartie was a good No. 2 cornerback and, as he showed in the postseason, an explosive kickoff returner.

In terms of behavior, Edwards made the only significant slip-up, as far as we know -- his drunken-driving arrest in September. After that, he was a good company man, according to teammates. Maybe he truly learned a hard lesson.

Holmes' postgame comments in Pittsburgh were troubling. He wasn't used on four of the first five plays because of the personnel groupings, and he whined after the game. He kept saying, "Ask coach [Brian] Schottenheimer" when asked to explain why he didn't play much at the start of the game.

He wasn't benched; it was just a handful of plays. How would he respond to real adversity if he had the security of a long-term deal loaded with guarantees?

These are the matters Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan must consider before doling out big bucks. They also have to make choices on linebacker David Harris (a free agent), running back LaDainian Tomlinson and pass-rusher Jason Taylor, to name a few. But those are simply football decisions, no characters risks. (P.S.: Harris isn't going anywhere.)

Right now, the Jets are saying all the right things, claiming they'd like to keep all the players perceived to be on the bubble. But money talks; you-know-what walks.

Give the Jets credit for bringing in Holmes, Cromartie and Edwards; they all contributed to a terrific season. But now comes the tough part, knowing when to invest and when to cut bait.