The New York Giants media attention this offseason has centered around wide receiver Victor Cruz and his ongoing contract quarrel with the team's front office. After several weeks in which neither party gained any ground, ESPN's Josina Anderson reported Friday morning that Cruz is ready to sign his first-round restricted free-agent tender worth $2.879 million for one year of service.
Victor Cruz to me this morning, "I'm going to sign my tender today and will continue talks for a long-term deal before camp starts." #Giants— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) June 14, 2013
As evident by Cruz's statement, the saga has not ended. Cruz will be able to continue negotiating a long-term deal even after he signs his tender, but that doesn't mean he'll land one. By signing his RFA tender, Cruz locks up nearly $3 million for the 2013 season, narrowly avoiding a meager $630,000 tender, which could have been activated by the Giants on Monday.
Although Cruz and the organization appear to be one step closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, neither party should be content with this deal. In fact, the star receiver is making a huge mistake, one that could adversely affect not just himself, but the entire team.
Statistically, Cruz deserves the monster contract he desires ($11 million per year). Realistically, he's not going to be paid like a No. 1 wide receiver, at least not with the Giants. The organization's most recent offer of $8 million per year is top money in the NFL for a slot receiver.
But is Cruz a slot receiver? He doesn't want to be paid as such because his duties have transcended those of a typical slot receiver, which is fair. Cruz is not just a third-down target; in the past he has shown tremendous playmaking ability on the outside, as long as Hakeem Nicks is lined up opposite him. For the past two seasons, Cruz has certainly been more than just a slot receiver.
When signing a contract, however, the franchise isn't repaying the player for what he's already contributed. Instead, he is being paid according to what the team believes his role will be in the future. So while Cruz brought more to the table than your average slot receiver in 2011 and 2012, one must wonder how long that will last, especially considering the high turnover rate among New York pass-catchers.
Second-year pro Rueben Randle has shown a great deal of progress, recently drawing praise from Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Randle, according to Gilbride, will be on the field a lot, even on early downs, playing either the X or Z position, or No. 1 or 2 wideout. Considering Randle's sudden ascension, the pedigreed receiver could push his undrafted counterpart, Cruz, out of the lineup more often, or into a more traditional Y (slot) position.
It would only make sense. Randle, a receiver with size, and Hakeem Nicks, a receiver who plays larger than he really is, could control the sidelines, while the shiftier, quick-footed Cruz settles into an interior role. If that ends up being the case, Cruz may not be happy, but the Giants' $8 million-per-year offer would be justified; he would be one of the top-paid slot receivers in the league.
By accepting the tender, Cruz is pushing almost all of his chips toward the center of the table. He is banking on another stellar season, one that will set him up nicely for unrestricted free agency in 2014. In fact, if he's able to fend off Randle for one more year and replicate the success he's had in each of the past two seasons, there's a very good chance he'll one day earn that lucrative payday for which he's currently searching.
There's also a chance that the offer on the table disappears forever. Players do not typically like playing under a tender because it is not long-term, and the risk of injury is too high with free agency on the horizon. Cruz should learn from recently retired receiver and former Giant Steve Smith's mistakes and take the money while it's still available.
The potential to hurt himself could prove to be crippling, as it was in Smith's case, but Cruz could also burden the team this summer. The hype surrounding Nicks' return to mandatory minicamp after a brief absence during organized team activities was significant, but the coverage of Cruz's presence at training camp will dwarf it—and that's assuming he even shows up.
That's right. According to a Pro Football Talk report, holding out during training camp is still a possibility for Cruz. This comes less than a year after Cruz said a holdout would "never happen" in an interview with WFAN (h/t The Star-Ledger). Cruz even admitted last October that "The team's going to panic" if he holds out of practice. As PFT also pointed out, if Cruz were to hold out beyond August 6, he would lose an accrued NFL season, pushing his unrestricted free agency back another year.
Of course it's still possible Cruz plays the 2013 season under the one-year tender, beats out Randle for early-down snaps, avoids any serious injury, reproduces the success he's had in each of the past two seasons and finally earns the big paycheck he wants—but would you be willing to bet $8 million per year on it?