In his two seasons on the field for the New York Giants, wide receiver Victor Cruz has left an indelible mark on both the organization and the New York metropolitan area.
But, with Cruz not inked to a long-term deal, his future in Gotham appears murky.
The Giants designated Cruz, a restricted free agent, with a first-round tender. When no team offered Cruz a contract before the April 19 deadline, the prevailing assumption was that action would be spurred as a result, with Cruz likely eager to accept what the team was offering, rather than sign his one-year tender, worth $2.879 million.
Unfortunately for the Giants, that hasn't been the case.
The team and player seem to have reached an impasse, with the Giants reportedly offering $8 million per season and Cruz wanting more.
With receivers Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay), Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City) and Mike Wallace (Miami) all having signed big-money deals in the past two years in excess of $11 million per season, it's no wonder that Cruz, who's arguably better than all three, could consider a holdout to force the Giants' hand.
Cruz, bereft of the long-term, big-money deal he craves, has yet to show up for the Giants offseason program, and coach Tom Coughlin has recently expressed concern for the matter.
Because the Giants have no viable alternative to Cruz on the roster, and because of Cruz's intensely unique skills and abilities, I believe that this situation should end in one way and one way only.
The team must pay Cruz and make sure he's a Giant for a long, long time.
Any other decision will prove to be a massive mistake.
Now, I understand the reticence of the Giants front office to lavish Cruz with a hugely expensive contract.
The team is staring down the barrel of contract extensions for fellow receiver Hakeem Nicks and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, so it's not like the front office, spearheaded by general manager Jerry Reese, has money to burn.
But Cruz, 26, has proven his immense value to the Giants. In the last two seasons, Cruz has caught 168 passes and scored 19 touchdowns. He caught 10 passes for 142 yards in Big Blue's 2011 NFC Championship victory in San Francisco, and scored the opening touchdown in the Giants' Super Bowl XLVI triumph over the New England Patriots.
Cruz is an absolute terror operating out of the slot, and his ability to run after the catch and make opposing defenders miss has become the stuff of legend in New York. He's a security blanket for quarterback Eli Manning, and can change the result of a game by his lonesome (see his 99-yard touchdown versus the Jets in Week 16, 2011 if you don't believe me).
If Cruz were to hold out, the Giants offense would be in a world of trouble.
Consider the rest of the team's receiving corps.
Hakeem Nicks is locked into one starting job, and, when healthy, he's one of the top receivers in football. But, he plays a different brand of football than Cruz, operating mainly on the outside, where he's able to use his size and strength to his advantage.
Last year's second-round pick, Rueben Randle, is a larger receiver (6'4", 210), who, like Nicks, operates on the outside.
The Giants signed Louis Murphy to add depth, but if you think he's the guy to replace Cruz, then you should strongly consider getting a clue. Murphy has never caught more than 41 passes in a single season.
Then, there's Jerrel Jernigan, selected in the third round of the 2011 draft. Thus far, Jernigan's NFL career has been an exercise in frustration and futility, as he's managed to tally only three receptions for 22 yards in two seasons.
Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter
Even though Victor Cruz is now an RFA and Hakeem Nicks has one year left on deal, Giants have placed a higher priority on re-signing Nicks.2/3/2013, 4:13:32 PM
So, if there's a receiver capable of replicating Cruz's production from the slot, he certainly isn't on the Giants' roster.
Plus, the Giants failed to select a receiver in last month's NFL draft. Presumably, that action would indicate that the team felt good about its chances to re-sign Cruz, but with no deal on the horizon, the collective fingernails in the team's front office are likely receiving a good chewing.
The Giants' offensive line and run game are other factors to consider. The line had a sub-standard season in 2012, and while David Wilson and Andre Brown, who top the depth chart at running back, played well last year, there's no long-term precedent that should make you confident that the duo is in line for a repeat performance in 2013.
That fact puts more pressure on Manning and the passing game, and if Cruz weren't available, the aerial assault would become exponentially less formidable.
With the Giants having failed to qualify for last year's postseason, the pressure to return to the tournament is on, and I believe that the Giants won't be able to get there without the services of Cruz.
It's just not worth it for the team to engage in a high-stakes game of chicken with Cruz. He's too valuable, and he hasn't been paid anything close to what he deserves.
It's time for the Giants to do the right thing. It's time for the Giants to offer Cruz a contract more commensurate with this talents, to ensure that the player remains in Giant blue for years to come.
The Giants wouldn't be able to handle a potential holdout from Cruz. No way, no how.
Because of that, they must pay the man.
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