Victor Cruz has become a New York folk hero in a New York minute. He went from undrafted, practice squad player to superstar wide receiver that makes appearances for GQ, GMA as well as touring for his new book and other various media shenanigans. He has literally become one of the faces of the franchise.
He’s also a good guy too, who you still want to root for.
Now I will admit, I would be the first to tell you that he had a good, but not great 2012 season. In 2011 he absolutely declared himself as the best slot receiver in the game amassing over 1500 yards receiving. As the attention grew and more cameras of the media and fashion type were around him, I think his play dropped a little. Still a very solid season considering how bad Eli was and how little Hakeem Nicks played, but clearly he did not perform like he did in 2011. It was possible the new media buzz around him was a slight distraction.
After 2011, Cruz made no complaints about the fact he was playing for a salary of less than $500,000. He went about his business and had a solid 2012 season. Now he is a restricted free agent and it appears contract talks are going nowhere. In fact, the Giants have put a first-round tender on Cruz. This basically means that he can sign for the one year minimum of $2.89 million with New York, or some other team can swoop him up and sign him to a nice offer sheet, in exchange for their first rounder. The Giants are gambling here. They know Cruz loves New York, has a great relationship with the coach, owner, his teammates and especially Eli Manning (they both now have the same agent). They know he came out of nowhere in a breakout 2011 season and had a solid 2012 season (albeit not as good as the previous one). They also know that the teams that desperately need another receiver, such as the Bills, Cardinals, Browns among others, will probably not be willing to part with a top 10 pick in a deep draft. It is a risk nonetheless.
However, there are also teams with multiple first round picks like the Rams who have seen slot demons Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson leave to the AFC East. What is the market for Cruz? Although he is definitely a slot receiver, he is not one to the same extent as Wes Welker. Cruz can definitely still play on the outside and can beat coverage from a team’s best corner. The Giants will probably try to get Cruz to take a deal similar to what Amendola or Welker took, which would be in the $6 million per year range, but I get the feeling Cruz may see a deal like the one Greg Jennings got, which had an annual salary of roughly $9.5 million and want to be paid like one of the better overall receivers in the game. The risk is that the Giants are up against the cap and a team could potentially negotiate a deal with Cruz that would be heavily front-loaded against the cap and would virtually be a poison pill type of deal. This would be a huge blow for the Giants, but would ultimately mean the departure of Cruz considering guys like Jason Pierre Paul and Hakeem Nicks will need new deals in the not too distant future.
Like I said, Cruz is a good dude. He will not make this negotiation a big deal like the way Mike Wallace did. I don’t see him holding out. He has done things the right way. Remember in Pittsburgh, Mike Wallace, bitched and moaned about his deal and what ended up happening? Antonio Brown got all of his money. Cruz has not bitched, nor moaned and he has done things with class. He has played for two years on a contract that was a shot to the face in correlation to his value to the Giants. The Giants have for the most part, always done right by some of their players(Osi Umenyiora notwithstanding) and the time is ripe to do right by Cruz who has carried himself like a real pro. It is now time for New York to reward him with a deal to keep him in big blue for a long time.