Earlier this week, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reiterated that New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz's contract situation would be settled before training camp, adding that the parameters of his new deal are "in place."
Considering New York's staunch approach during negotiations, it seems as if the contract will be worth closer to the team's offer of $8 million per year, as opposed to Cruz's original asking price of $11 million per year, or even his revised demand of $9 million per year. If Mortensen's report turns out to be true, Giants quarterback Eli Manning will have his most reliable target and one of the best slot receivers in the game locked up for the foreseeable future.
This is good news for Giants fans who have fallen in love with Manning's high-flying passing attack in recent seasons, as Paul Schwartz of the New York Post points out.
"By not over-extending to re-sign Victor Cruz, the Giants will position themselves to keep Hakeem Nicks as well," Schwartz wrote on Sulia. "The Giants want to keep both of their starting receivers, and although it won't be easy, getting Cruz in at the right price will allow the Giants to be competitive next year when Nicks' original rookie deal is done."
This puts to bed the bickering over who the more valuable receiver is. Cruz and Nicks have very different skill sets, and there is a niche in the offense for both of them. Clearly, the Giants value both pass-catchers, although they certainly want to avoid paying above market value for either one.
With both Cruz and Nicks in the lineup, Manning has enjoyed tremendous success through the air. He has matured into one of the league's most reliable passers, and a lot of that has to do with the chemistry he has built with his receiving corps. Now entering his 10th season as a New York Giant, Manning deserves to have these familiar weapons at his disposal.
Manning hasn't ever had a mainstay Raymond Berry or Jerry Rice to lean on, like Johnny U and the great Joe Montana did. Instead, his top receivers have been fleeting, brilliant for a few seasons before vanishing from Manning's arsenal. With time quickly ticking down for the 32-year-old signal-caller, he needs his top-flight cast of receivers to remain intact.
Will the Giants be able to retain both Cruz AND Nicks long term?
Barring a veteran addition, the 2013 season will be the first in which Manning will be without a starting running back with at least two seasons of experience. David Wilson, who is set to become New York's feature back, was a rookie last year, and Andre Brown, although he has been in the league since 2009, saw virtually all of his production come in just 10 games last season. Because of this inexperience, Manning will need a reliable group of receivers more than ever in 2013.
Aside from Cruz, who has hauled in a team-leading 168 grabs over the past two seasons, and Nicks, whose unique ability is complemented nicely by his dinner plate-sized hands, Manning will also be working with second-year receiver Rueben Randle, who has developed by leaps and bounds this offseason with the spotlight on his more established counterparts. Randle's size and leaping ability make him a veritable threat along the sideline, deep over the middle of the field or planted in the back of the end zone.
Randle could end up as Nicks' replacement if the University of North Carolina product decides to skip town when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the spring of 2014, an option he's neither confirmed nor denied. However, if Cruz's new deal allows the Giants to jockey Nicks into a long-term agreement as well, the Giants could end up fielding an unfathomably dangerous receiving trio at least until Randle's rookie deal is up in 2016.
If given an extended opportunity to collaborate with a three-headed monster like that in his prime, Manning's potential to become a three-time Super Bowl champion seems a heck of a lot more likely.