Hakeem Nicks Facing Final Audition for Giants, NFL

Kristopher KnoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 2, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 10:   Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants  runs after a catch against  Kevin Burnett #94 of the Oakland Raiders during their game at MetLife Stadium on November 10, 2013 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

With a win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday night, the New York Giants managed to provide one of those occasional highlights that have dotted an otherwise disappointing 5-7 season.

For Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks, however, the bright spots have been few and far between in 2013.

Nicks hasn't exactly been awful. His 654 receiving yards rank 34th in the NFL through Week 13. However, for a player in the midst of both a contract year and a two-season slump, things have been anything but ideal. Nicks, who missed the Week 12 game against the Dallas Cowboys, is on pace to miss the 1,000-yard mark for a second consecutive season (a benchmark he surpassed in 2010 and 2011).

He also hasn't reached the end zone in nearly a year (his last score came in Week 14 of the 2012 season.

The past two seasons have seen a steep decline in the chemistry between Nicks and quarterback Eli Manning, as illustrated during the most recent Sunday Night Football broadcast.

They have also seen a game in which Nicks failed to log a reception and subsequently took a not-so-subtle shot at the aforementioned quarterback.

Therefore, it is understandable if Nicks is ready to turn the page on this forgettable stage of his career with just four games remaining on the schedule. However, if Nicks wishes to begin the next stage of his career in a desirable situation (and with an enviable contract) he had better make sure that the final month of the 2013 season is more on the memorable side.

It is fair to wonder if the Giants have any real interest in bringing back Nicks, who was the subject of midseason trade talks, according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora

Victor Cruz has become the clear-cut No. 1 option in Manning's arsenal, which is why he was awarded a new five-year, $43 million deal during the offseason. 2012 second-round selection Rueben Randle has flashed the potential to step in as the team's long-term No. 2.

It is also fair to wonder if one of the other 31 NFL franchises will be willing to view and pay Nicks like the No. 1 wideout he was supposed to be when the Giants drafted him 29th overall back in 2009.

At the beginning of the season, Nicks was listed as the top wideout available in next year's free-agent class—which also features names like Anquan Boldin, Eric Decker and Kenny Britt—by footballsfuture.com. After a subpar 13-week stretch, however, Nick may find it difficult to command high-end money on the open market without a strong finish.

Unless he lands in the right situation, the next stage of Nicks' career may be spent steeped in mediocrity.

Hakeem Nicks Yearly Statistics
via NFL.com

In order to prove that he can still be a top-tier receiver and not just another Steve Smith (the one that used to play in New York), Nicks will need to make the most of these final four games. For starters, he will need to put his recent struggles behind him and remember that he has the ability to make game-changing plays.

Most importantly, Nicks will need to do everything in his power to help his current team win football games. (Getting into the end zone would be a nice start.)

After all, any team that decides to employ Nicks next season (in New York or elsewhere) will only do so if the pending free agent can help it win.