The Victor Cruz Showdown

By Bryan Knowles

After a protracted standoff, the Giants and Victor Cruz recently have finally come to a deal, with Cruz signing his $2.879 million tender. Now, Cruz can at least show up to camp, after skipping the entire offseason program.

This is not precisely the outcome Cruz was hoping for.  After starting off this offseason demanding an $11 million a year tender, he recently dropped his contract demands to $9 million a year.  The Giants, however, are holding firm at $8 million, thus the one year tender.  Thus, the contract negotiation standoff resumes.  Cruz was out of time, however, as waiting until Monday would have resulted in the offer being reduced to the veteran's minimum of $630,000.  So, it was sign now or risk losing a couple million dollars – Cruz blinked while the Giants did not.

There is somewhat of a misconception I've heard that Cruz had a down year last season, and, in terms of fantasy, there was a regression back towards the mean.  In 2011, Cruz had 18.7 yards per reception, and more than three for every time he was running a pass route – these numbers were, quite frankly, unsustainable right from the very start, and they 'plummeted' to a more reasonable 12.7 yards per reception and 2 yards per route run.  That drop of 6 YPR?  Only Larry Fitzgerald had a worse drop-off, and he didn't benefit from Eli Manning throwing him passes.Cruz dropped to just over 1000 receiving yards, despite keeping about the same number of receptions, and missing all the various all-NFL teams.  Post week-7, his fantasy numbers fell off the chart, too, furthering that misconception – after week 7, he only found the end zone three times, with only four receptions per game for an average of just over 50 yards.

Well, you know what?  That still makes him a top-10 receiver, or right on the borderline of it.  He had a catch rate of 60% last season, which is pretty darn good for someone who is, at least schematically, primarily a deep threat.  Yes, his numbers dropped off as teams started covering him more, especially once Hakeem Nicks went out, but he certainly wasn't a flash in the pan or anything, and if you can get him in the fourth round or so, with people downgrading him due to a poor-fantasy production late in the season, you should grab him.

New York Giants Receiver Victor Cruz
Jan 26, 2013, Honolulu, HI, USA: New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz (80) carries the ball in the 2013 Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium. Photo courtesy by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

The issue long-term for the Giants isn't whether Cruz is any good or not -- it's if they can afford to keep him and Hakeem Nicks under contract in 2014, assuming Cruz plays out this season under the one-year tender.  This is Nicks' last year under contract, too, as he comes off of some lower-leg injuries, and the Giants will probably have to make some kind of decision between them after this year.  If they couldn't afford to give Cruz $11 million a year now – which is entirely in the realm of possibility, considering the contracts given to Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, and Percy Harvin – the odds of them squeezing both Cruz AND Nicks into one salary cap seem to be very low.

At first glance, the obvious choice would be to keep Cruz, as he has better standard numbers – more catches for more yards, etc – and is more elusive.  The problem with that as an apples-to-apples comparison is their roles – Cruz is a slot receiver primarily, with over 70% of his snaps coming from that position, while Nicks is your traditional starting outside wide receiver.  Now, slot receiver is a starting role in today's NFL – 29 of the 32 NFL teams used three wide receivers as their primary formation in 2012 – but they are very different roles.  Cruz has more room to operate and is generally paired against lower quality defensive backs compared to Nicks' opponents.

He also drops passes more than Nicks does – over the last two seasons, Cruz has dropped one pass per 12 targets, roughly, while Nicks goes 22 targets between drops.  Perhaps, then, the reluctance of the Giants to give Cruz a huge contract right now is a delaying game, waiting to see if Nicks returns to full form before decided how to allocate their salary cap space.   That's a bit of gamble in and of itself, as if the answer is "he's not coming back", that might just cause Cruz's demands to get higher.

I think what would be best for the Giants would be to quickly come to a long-term deal with Cruz --  maybe compensate for the lack of total money by upping the guaranteed amount, or something along those lines.  Nicks, even when healthy, hasn't put up numbers quite to the level Cruz has, even when factoring in their respective positions, so pay Cruz and try to figure out how to squeeze Nicks under the cap after this season, aware that you just might have to let him go at the end of all things.  You have to prioritize in the salary cap era, and sometimes that means making a difficult choice like this one.

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