Wide receiver Victor Cruz has agreed to a five-year, $43 million extension with the New York Giants, according to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, who also reports that $15.6 million of that is guaranteed. Throw in his one-year tender for 2013 and, as USA Today's Mike Garafolo points out, that essentially means that Cruz will make an average of $7.6 million over the next half-dozen years in New York.
I understand that Cruz's value has been heavily debated these past few months, but you'd be absolutely silly to argue that the Pro Bowler deserves less than what he reportedly received.
If you only look at this deal in terms of guaranteed money and his average salary, the Giants are basically committing to Cruz for two years at that aforementioned sub-$8 million rate.
Cruz did not have a lot of leverage, which is why he ultimately had to come down a fair bit from a reported asking price of $10-11 million per year. That's why he'll still be making less guaranteed money and less per year than fellow NFC East slot receiver Miles Austin, who signed a seven-year, $54 million deal with $17 million guaranteed in 2010.
In 2013, with the emphasis on passing continuing to increase, the notion that slot receivers are dramatically less valuable than X or Z receivers is quickly becoming antiquated. The reality is that players like Cruz, who can change the game without lining up outside, are extremely rare.
This is simple. The sample size isn't huge, but Cruz is a 26-year-old stud who, since the start of 2011, has been one of the most productive receivers in the NFL. In fact, during that span, he has outproduced the average receiver who is making $11 million or more per year.
Among all NFL wide receivers the last two years, Cruz ranks sixth in receptions, fifth in yards, sixth in touchdowns and 15th in yards per catch.
Despite playing in the slot, he led the entire league in yards per pass route run in 2011 and he has the highest average in that metric over the last two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He also had the second-highest catch rate on deep passes in 2011, per PFF, and dominates teammate and presumed No. 1 wideout Hakeem Nicks in that category as well.
And yet Cruz will still be making less per year than 16 other receivers, including the older and less productive Austin in the slot. He's also one of 17 receivers with a guaranteed salary that matches or exceeds $15 million, according to OverTheCap.com.
Would anyone argue that Cruz isn't one of the 17 most valuable receivers in this league?
You don't pay players for what they've done. You pay them for what you expect them to do going forward. Still, there's little reason to believe Cruz won't continue to be a difference-maker in New York. This is a pass-first offense that has lacked consistency everywhere but through the air, so a commitment such as this one to a man who has been your best offensive player the last two years is a no-brainer.
The Giants wouldn't have won the Super Bowl two years ago without Cruz emerging as a sensation in the receiving corps, and their chances of capturing yet another Lombardi Trophy in the coming years would take a significant hit without him in the lineup. This had to happen, but the team-friendly rate is the icing on the cake.