COMMENTARY | The elephant in the room wears No. 80.
The New York Giants have made several offseason moves, but restricted free agent wide receiver Victor Cruz remains unsigned. Back in February, I wrote that the Giants will sign Cruz in due time. I still stand by my prediction, but what if I'm wrong?
The Giants have placed a first-round tender worth a non-guaranteed $2.879 million on their All-Pro wideout, so it's unlikely that another team will sign him to an offer sheet before the April 19 deadline. However, Cruz reportedly is seeking a contract in the range of $10-11 million per year. The Giants have offered him a deal in the ballpark of $7 million annually. The reported difference is substantial and conceivably could lead to a hold out or Cruz becoming an unrestricted free agent next March. Those are unlikely scenarios, but they beg the question, would the Giants be able to survive without their salsa-dancing receiver?
Cruz without question is one of the most important players on the team. In two season with the Giants (he missed 2010 due to injury), he has amassed 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns. Moreover, he set a single-season franchise record with 1,536 yards in 2011, as the G-Men went all the way. There's no way the Giants win Super Bowl XLVI without him. But they did win one without Cruz in 2008.
In 2007-08, the Giants won games behind a balanced offense and aggressive defense. But the current team is different, relying more on the offense. Behind Eli Manning (and Cruz), New York has ranked in the top 10 in points scored in each of the last two seasons, whereas they were ranked No. 14 the year they won SB XLII. Moreover, the defense gave up a single-season franchise record 6,134 yards in 2012, as the pass rush dropped to No. 22 in the league from being tied for No. 2 the previous season.
Over the last few years, the Giants have managed to survive the loss of key offensive players, including Steve Smith and Mario Manningham, but Cruz is a cog in the team's offense and there's nobody on the roster capable of replacing him. Simply put, they need him to contend next season. However, in the contract-driven world of the NFL, the Giants can't sign him at any cost. The team has to consider the salary cap and future contracts for stars such as Hakeem Nicks and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Not having Cruz on the field is a scary thought, but so is the idea of overpaying him and financially crippling the team for years to come. On the other side of the coin, sitting out or playing without a long-term deal is a risky proposition for Cruz. The fear factor on both sides will bring them together.
Adam Martini is a freelance sports writer with more than 15 years of experience covering amateur and professional sports for several print and online media outlets. He tracked the New York Giants for Yahoo! Contributor Network during the team's Super Bowl run in 2011-12. Adam can be found on Twitter @Pegcitysports.
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