Contract talks between the New York Giants and star wide receiver Victor Cruzremain at an impasse as the start of training camp approaches.
As of this writing, Cruz is only the restricted free agent who remains unsigned after Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields signed a one-year contract tender earlier this week.
The 26-year-old Cruz initially commanded $10-11 million per season, but has since come down from that demand. In March, the Giants offered Cruz a first-round tender worth $2.8 million this season, but Cruz clearly has his mind set on signing a long-term contract. New York retains the option to lower the offer to $600,00 if the tender isn’t signed by June 17.
There’s no doubt that Cruz has been the Giants best receiver over the past two seasons. In 2012, Cruz proved to be an essential piece during the Giants’ surprising Super Bowl run; he set a franchise-record 1,536 receiving yards to go along with 82 catches and nine TDs.
Last season, while his counterpart Hakeem Nicks dealt with nagging injuries, Cruz tallied 86 receptions, 1,092 receiving yards and 10 TDs, leading the team in each category. As Eli Manning’s favorite option last season, Cruz garnered 143 targets, tied for 11th most in the NFL.
Cruz has proven his durability in the past two seasons as well. He’s caught at least two passes in each of the Giants last 36 games, playoffs included. His last game without a catch? Week 1 of 2011, weeks before end zone salsa dancing became his trademark.
The complexity surrounding Cruz’s contract is two-fold. For starters, Giants general manager Jerry Reese is trying to figure out how to sign both Nicks and Cruz to long-term deals within the confines of the salary cap. Nicks, a prototypical no. 1, given his 6-foot-1 frame, is likely to play out his rookie contract and become an unrestricted free agent in 2014. The price on Nicks could very well skyrocket should he hit free agency.
Meanwhile, Cruz’s style is difficult to nail down. If he was simply a slot receiver, he’d likely command a contract in the range of Wes Welker’s two-year, $12 million deal with the Denver Broncos.
But, Cruz isn’t just a slot receiver. He’s fast enough to take the top off a defense and has proven to be a viable deep threat. Last season, Cruz caught four touchdown passes on passes thrown at least 30 yards downfield. Compare that to Welker, who had just one reception — of 118 — on a ball throw at least 30 yards.
Cruz is an atypical receiver, which is why it’s so hard to pin down his long-term value. However, there’s no question Cruz is an essential piece to the Giants pass-oriented offense.
Reese needs to a find a middle ground that’ll appease both sides. If that doesn’t happen by the start of training camp on July 26, expect Cruz to hold out until contract talks are resolved.