Victor Cruz has received most of the attention in the world of New York Giants football this offseason, and that's understandable. It's Cruz who has been the team's most productive receiver the last two seasons and who has been holding out as a restricted free agent.
But with Cruz signing his tender late last week, some of the attention has begun to shift to the Giants' actual No. 1 receiver, Hakeem Nicks. Nicks, who is also seeking a new deal before his rookie contract expires in 2014, missed the voluntary portion of organized team activities for reasons that remain a little mysterious.
He told Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post Wednesday that he didn't want to risk injury in voluntary sessions, which probably is indirectly tied to his contract situation. But he did return for mandatory minicamp and apologized to head coach Tom Coughlin for his absence.
One would have to think, though, that with Cruz also slated to become an unrestricted free agent next March, the cap-strapped Giants are already considering the possibility that one of their two star receivers will take his talents elsewhere in the spring of 2014.
"I really can't speak for my whole career," Nicks told Hubbuch when asked if he thinks he'll retire with Big Blue. "I enjoy being a Giant right now. I'm going to take care of what I can take care of as long as I'm a Giant, but I do understand the business side of football, too."
The Giants would miss Nicks dearly. Yes, he's prone to injury, but the 2009 first-round pick has already gone over 1,000 yards twice and has 27 touchdowns in 44 career starts. At 25, he's a year younger than Cruz and a larger threat as an X or Z receiver.
As things stand right now, the Giants are slated to have a little more cap room next offseason than they do this year, but if they cannot find the money to secure Nicks long term, don't expect them to invest in an outside free-agent receiver such as Jeremy Maclin, Eric Decker or Anquan Boldin.
Instead, the focus will be on Rueben Randle, who, like Nicks, is strictly an outside receiver with star potential. Expect the Giants to give the 2012 second-round pick plenty of reps this year as the No. 3 receiver.
They'll want to get a feel for how high Randle's ceiling is before making major decisions regarding Nicks because there's really nobody else on or off the roster who can step in if Nicks hits the road.
The Giants have to know that without the Eli Manning/Cruz/Nicks trio, they would not have won the Super Bowl two years ago. But Manning is the only indispensable member of that group. He makes those receivers better, not the other way around.
The Giants cannot afford to lose both players, but if Randle becomes the player they hoped he'd be when they drafted him 63rd overall, the Giants can have an obvious replacement for Nicks. That's not as clear with Cruz.
There's no reason to panic. The Giants will likely force both receivers to prove their worth one more time this year while keeping a close eye on Randle. Then, they'll have some choices to make—based somewhat on production and on the state of negotiations—before the 2014 league year gets underway.
Don't be surprised, though, if by the time that decision-making process is over, Nicks is on the outs and Randle is the team's new top receiver.