The New York Giants could face the unenviable task of choosing between two star players this offseason, at the same position no less.
High-priced talent is often difficult to retain when one positional unit includes several of the team's most expensive players. Such is the case with the Giants. They would be wise to prepare for a scenario in which they must extend Hakeem Nicks' contract and allow Victor Cruz to depart.
Like many teams, the Giants are still in the process of adapting to the new collective bargaining agreement consummated in 2011 and must make sacrifice several quality players to get under the cap, one of whom may be Cruz.
General manager Jerry Reese has released several veterans this offseason in the hopes of re-signing younger players. Despite slashing payroll, New York may not have the breathing room to bring back two top-tier receivers.
Victor Cruz is set to become a restricted free agent this spring, while Hakeem Nicks still has one year remaining on the rookie contract he signed as a first-round pick back in 2009.
It's natural to assume Nicks' talent is being leveraged against Cruz by Big Blue's front office. Even so, the team has a case to be made for keeping their former first-round pick over an undrafted free agent.
Preparation is paramount in all aspects of football. Just as coaches prepare their players for game day, general managers must be ready for any situation regarding their personnel.
New York undoubtedly would prefer to hold onto both Nicks and Cruz, as the duo amassed 1,784 yards on 139 catches last season. But what happens if the market for these players becomes exceedingly overpriced?
Carrying the status as a restricted free agent, Victor Cruz has the right to shop his services around to 31 other teams this offseason. Ultimately, New York will have the ability to match any offer and retain the star receiver.
Should the Giants encounter a "poison pill" contract, however, they should not hesitate to allow Victor Cruz to walk away.
For instance, if a team offers a Vincent Jackson-type deal in the neighborhood of five years, $55.5 million, expect Victor Cruz to salsa dance his way out of town.
Jerry Reese has attempted to iron out a long-term deal with Cruz for months now. The inability of the two sides to come close to an agreement increases the likelihood that the former University of Massachusetts star will be able to test free agency.
A lucrative deal will inevitably find its way to the New Jersey native this spring, wherever he ends up landing. In the past two seasons, he has amassed 168 receptions, 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns. These numbers are sure to grab the attention of general managers around the league.
While the statistics for Cruz are gaudy, they don't necessarily tell the whole story.
The argument for keeping Nicks over Cruz begins and ends with the disparity in physical composition between the two players. Cruz is predominantly a slot receiver, benefiting statistically from the fact that he was often a safety valve for Eli Manning.
Although he is only one inch taller than Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks fits the Giants' system as a prototypical "No. 1 receiver."
Nicks thrives in a completely different dimension of the receiving game than Cruz, which the Giants will certainly value moving forward. Nicks has the ability to make plays for his team on any part of the field, as opposed to the more restrictive route tree that Cruz' role entails.
Abnormally large hands (10.5") allow for Nicks to catch the ball in traffic over the middle of the field. Positional awareness and above-average leaping ability have opened up connections on back-shoulder passes near the sideline. Perhaps the most outstanding quality Nicks possesses is deceptive top-end speed. This has allowed Eli Manning and the Giants offense to stretch the field on numerous occasions.
Yes, Victor Cruz can do all of those things, but can he do them consistently?
In the three games Hakeem Nicks missed due to injury in 2012, Cruz totaled 13 catches and 115 yards, outproduced by teammates Rueben Randle and Ramses Barden. His pedestrian numbers during that stretch support the argument that Victor Cruz struggles to deal with added attention by the defense.
Nicks, on the other hand, has thrived on big stages. In four postseason contests in 2011, Nicks tallied 28 catches, 444 yards and 4 touchdowns. Much of these accomplishments came by way of defeating double teams, or in this case a halfhearted quadruple team.
The Giants already allowed a solid outside receiver walk one year ago when Mario Manningham packed his bags for San Francisco.
Manningham's departure all but cemented the team's necessity to retain Hakeem Nicks as their premier outside receiver. Randle, 21, has shown he has the ability to become a solid No. 2 receiver outside the hashes, but will need time to develop.
An underlying reason for the urgency to extend Hakeem Nicks could potentially be his current market value compared to other wide receivers.
Along with Victor Cruz this offseason, Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and Danny Amendola are on the cusp of hitting the free agent market.
Reaching an agreement with Hakeem Nicks this offseason makes more sense for the Giants. Nicks will acquire long-term security in the form of $7-8-million a year. Considering his struggles with injury in 2012 and ability to forgo playing in a contract year, the Giants will be able to extend Nicks at a discounted rate.
Having to choose between two prominent and upstanding athletes can be like asking a mother to profess which of her children is her favorite in front of said children.
This may turn out to be an excruciatingly painful process for Jerry Reese and his staff, but ultimately there is not enough room, at least cap-wise, for both receivers.
New York's core is still intact. They understandably want to retain an inside-out threat from their respective No. 1 and slot receivers.
Each of these players has exhibited tremendous skill and prowess during their respective careers but, if the Giants become handcuffed into a decision, they should stick with Nicks as their top receiver.
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