Remember last year when the Pittsburgh Steelers were short on cash and Mike Wallace was the first big-name restricted free agent to become exposed to the tweak in the new collective bargaining agreement that made it much easier for others to steal young superstar RFAs from their original teams?
For a while there, Pittsburgh-based Wallace supporters panicked.
Under the old collective bargaining agreement, blue-chip RFAs never left the grasp of their teams because the mandatory compensation was too high. If the Giants can't get Cruz signed to a long-term deal before free agency and place the highest tender on him, Cruz can be had for a first-round pick and a contract that the Giants either can't or choose not to match.
Previously, a first-round pick, a third-round pick and a new contract were required if you wanted to poach a top-level RFA with the highest tender. Now, any wide receiver-needy team with a late first-round pick and more free cap space than the Giants could potentially steal Cruz without feeling as though they sold the farm.
The Giants can obviously ensure that such a worst-case scenario isn't on the table by placing the franchise tag on Cruz, but that could be financially crippling for a franchise that lacks salary-cap space. If they were to tag Cruz and fail to reach a long-term agreement by the July deadline, they'd be on the hook to pay Cruz over $10 million in 2013.
Wallace didn't get the bites many expected he would last year and ended up back in Pittsburgh. It's possible teams are colluding to stay away from these rare RFA birds (because draft picks receive mandatory four-year contracts, they can no longer become restricted free agents), but it's also possible nobody felt Wallace was worth a first-round pick.
This year, if no one's colluding and if Cruz and the Giants can't come to terms—a distinct possibility when you consider that they tabled contract talks after "agreeing to disagree" during the season—then it's not far-fetched to think that someone might give it a shot.
It only takes one.
The Bengals have the spare cash to outbid the Giants, and they'd only have to surrender the 21st overall pick to steal Cruz. The Broncos have a lot more cap space than Big Blue and would only have to give up the 28th overall selection. The Colts have the money to get Andrew Luck a 26-year-old Pro Bowl wide receiver, and it would only cost them the 24th overall pick.
And then there's the Bill Belichick factor.
If Belichick really does have a grudge against the Giants, maybe he'll try to sign Cruz to an offer sheet that can't be matched (the Patriots, too, appear to have more cap space than New York), giving up only the 29th pick as compensation.
Again, it's not very likely this comes to fruition, but the possibility exists. And in the NFL, crazier stuff happens every offseason. It's just more incentive for the Giants to get a deal done now in order to avoid any potential shenanigans later.