Now that Victor Cruz has signed his one-year restricted free-agent (RFA) tender with the New York Giants, we can predict with near certainty that the Pro Bowl wide receiver will show up for work by early August at the latest.
In order to ensure that he's eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next year, Cruz has to report by Aug. 6, so expect that to happen regardless of where negotiations stand at that point in time.
The only way Cruz doesn't play for the Giants this year is if they shock the world by trading him. Let's explore that possibility.
For Cruz to Be Traded...
First of all, negotiations would have to be going very, very badly. The Giants need Cruz, and they know that. They wouldn't have won Super Bowl XLVI without him, and he's been their best overall player since the start of 2011.
But the team can also be quite stubborn and calculating. If it appears Cruz won't budge from a reported asking price of $11 million, the G-Men could determine that the most prudent approach would involve them trading him while they can still get something for him.
The problem is that, at this point, most rosters are set and lots of budgets have been spent. Such a trade would likely require Cruz and his new team to agree on a long-term deal first, so the Giants would have to find someone willing to cave to those demands, which won't be easy right now.
A camp injury could change that, but the odds are still quite low, especially when you consider that the Giants haven't traded a player since dealing backup tight end Michael Matthews to the New England Patriots in 2009. Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin build from within and rarely make splashes, so things would have to get pretty dire for them to even consider trading Cruz right now, and finding a suitor could be an impossible task.
Two star-level wide receivers were dealt earlier this offseason, each as a result of contract issues. The Baltimore Ravens only received a sixth-round pick in exchange for Anquan Boldin, who is somewhat similar to Cruz on the field but is also six years older. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings received first-, third- and seventh-round picks in exchange for Percy Harvin, who hasn't put up Cruz-like numbers but possesses just as much (if not more) potential.
That means Cruz would almost certainly be worth a first-round pick on the trade market. The problem is that nobody was willing to cough up a first-rounder in order to sign the 26-year-old to an offer sheet when he was an RFA this past spring.
The Giants would have to settle for less. And with the uncertainty surrounding Hakeem Nicks and without knowing how good 2012 second-round pick Rueben Randle is just yet, New York would be crazy to give up its most productive offensive player ahead of the 2013 regular season while only getting non-first-round picks in return.
They'd be better off using Cruz this season while hoping circumstances change between now and next March. And if the status quo holds, they'd let him walk as an unrestricted free agent and receive a fairly high compensatory pick anyway.
How Quickly Can the Giants Become Hopeless?
If Harvin and Darrelle Revis are worth first-round picks on the trade market, then so is Cruz. And if you've lost all hope in re-signing the guy and thus feel a second-rounder is better than nothing, keep in mind that the better option is probably to keep him around for a cheap year and then take that compensatory pick if nothing changes between now and next March.
But just in case they don't necessarily want to adhere to that philosophy, let's break down the current state of negotiations in order to determine the odds that the Giants lose their patience this summer and pull the trigger.
Cruz's actual value is irrelevant, so long as he feels he's worth $10 million-plus. The Giants had at one point reportedly offered him north of $7 million per year, which isn't bad when you consider that top-flight slot receivers Danny Amendola and Wes Welker could only fetch $6 million per year this past March. But Cruz has been much more productive than Amendola and is significantly younger than Welker.
Even in terms of sheer numbers, the only four receivers who have caught more passes for more yards than Cruz has the last two years—Welker, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Roddy White—aren't doing a lot to help his cause.
Welker signed for $6 million a year in Denver, Marshall is making $9 million a year in Chicago, and White is making $7 million late in his rookie contract. Only Johnson, who is coming off a record-breaking season and is one of the game's biggest playmakers, is making eight figures (a ridiculous $18.8 million per year).
Harvin could cause problems, though, because after signing a six-year, $67 million deal in Seattle, he's the only receiver in the league who takes the majority of his snaps from the slot and is making over $10 million a year.
Cruz is also predominantly a slot receiver. Harvin's never had a 1,000-receiving-yard season, while Cruz has posted two of them in as many years. Why should he take any less than what the Seahawks gave Harvin?
The Giants are slated to have about $20 million worth of cap space entering the 2014 offseason, according to OvertheCap.com. However, they'll look to take care of Nicks, Linval Joseph, Andre Brown and Stevie Brown and maybe even Justin Tuck, Brandon Myers, Kevin Boothe and Mark Herzlich, all of whom are entering contract years. Securing Cruz for $7 million as opposed to $11 million could mean keeping, instead of losing, one or two of those players.
So I don't expect the Giants to budge a whole lot. It's just not what they do. Eventually, watch for Cruz to make some concessions. He has become such a star off the field, and New York is the best place for him to be as an endorser and mogul.
Someone else might—might—pay him more than $10 million, but the Giants realize that there's a chance nobody does and that he takes their offer. And so long as the relationship between the two remains cordial and doesn't quickly sour, there's no reason to believe the team will ditch hope and deal him away any time soon.
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