Victor Cruz Can Only Gain Leverage Against New York Giants by Sitting Tight

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistApril 1, 2013

Mar. 3, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Giants player Victor Cruz attends the game between the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden. Miami won 99-93. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

With free agency pretty much out of the way and the draft becoming the focus, the top story surrounding the New York Giants continues to be Victor Cruz's contract situation. Some are flabbergasted that Cruz, who is a restricted free agent, isn't jumping to accept New York's latest offer, but I think the wide receiver is smart to bide his time.

The New York Daily News reported in March that Cruz has a contract on the table that exceeds $7 million per year "with a sizable amount of guaranteed money." But that offer won't likely disappear this offseason, and Cruz has little reason to rush.

Teams still have 18 days to sign the Pro Bowler to an offer sheet. That's considered to be a far-fetched scenario, but such a move would force the Giants to match said offer, with a first-round pick hanging in the balance if they either couldn't afford to or opted not to. 

Cruz then has to decide whether or not to sign his one-year first-round tender, which would pay him just shy of $2.9 million in 2013 and would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent next March. 

Assuming he stays healthy and continues to produce the way he has in recent seasons, Cruz would make a hell of a lot more than $7 million per season on the open market next spring.

And that's why I understand why he might be considering rolling the dice here.

For whatever reason, a lot of folks are throwing that $7 million number around as if it's some inflated, grand salary that Cruz would be silly to walk away from. But the franchise tag for receivers next offseason will be around $11 million. If that isn't applied because the team has to use it on Hakeem Nicks or just opts not to use it on him, Cruz would make at least $10 million per year elsewhere. 

An older, less versatile and less effective Vincent Jackson signed a five-year, $55 million contract with $26 million guaranteed in Tampa last offseason. The salary cap was slightly lower then. 

The oft-injured and less productive Percy Harvin inked a six-year, $67 million contract with $14.5 million guaranteed in Seattle earlier this offseason. 

Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace also signed deals in March that will pay them over $11 million per year. 

He might not be entitled to Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald money, but Cruz is absolutely in the Jackson/Harvin/Bowe/Wallace range. He's a young, versatile playmaker who can score on any given play. 

He knows he deserves more than Stevie Johnson, Marques Colston and Steve Smith (Panthers). Those are the three NFL receivers making between $7 million and $8 million per year on average. 

The counter argument here is that things could change for Cruz this season. What if he plays under that tender and suffers a serious injury, earning only a one-year deal somewhere next offseason? He could lose it all, but that's a risk these guys run. 

He has to ask himself if it's worth sacrificing a few million dollars in 2013 and risking a big payday in 2014 in order to make an extra $3 million or $4 million per year in the half-decade that follows. 

During his first three seasons in this league, Cruz only made about $2 million, but a slew of endorsements have impacted his income in a big way. He's not desperate for the cash, which is why he should use every bit of leverage he has against the Giants by holding out for as long as possible. 

I agree with Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio on this one. There's no reason why Cruz should take less than what he feels he deserves when you consider that he'd only be sacrificing about $1.7 million by sitting out the first nine weeks of the season. That's cold and calculated, but it's how you gain leverage in this business. 

If the Giants don't want to lose their best receiver for more than half the season, they might decide to cave and pay him more like Wallace, Jackson, Bowe and Harvin and less like Johnson, Colston, Smith or typecasted slot specialists Wes Welker and Danny Amendola. 

If that doesn't transpire, then at least Cruz will have decreased the risk of injury by limiting his exposure during what would wind up serving as a contract year.