When the game-winning touchdown pass left Eli Manning’s hands on Sunday afternoon, it landed safely between the gloves of a receiver making $540,000 this year. A year ago, Victor Cruz was a feel-good story of a player who came out of nowhere to break the Giants’ franchise record for receiving yards and help the team win their second Super Bowl in 5 years. This year, he’s simply one of the best receivers in football, and the Giants need to lock him up to a long term deal before it’s too late.
This coming offseason, Cruz will be a restricted free agent. Assuming they place a first-round tender on him, he’ll be slated to make something in the neighborhood of $2.7 million next year. That would be a huge increase over what he’s making now, but nothing close to Cruz’s value on the open market – and the open market is exactly what the Giants want Cruz to avoid. By signing him to a long-term contract soon, the Giants would be able to get him for below market value, with the benefit to Cruz being that he would get to stay home and that he’d get his money sooner, eliminating the risk of a possible injury that would wreck his value.
“I love this team. I love this organization. I want to, God-willing, one day retire a Giant. I want to stay here and fulfill my journey with the New York Giants.” – Victor Cruz
If the Giants allow Cruz to play out the next year under only his tender offer, he would become an unrestricted free agent after next season. If that happens, and he stays healthy, his value will skyrocket. To give you an idea, Vincent Jackson was rewarded with the most lucrative contract of any free agent receiver this past offseason, getting five years and $55.5 million from the Buccaneers. Cruz has much better statistics than Jackson and is 4 years younger.
The Giants are going to have to make some tough decisions over the next few years with many of their own free agents. The contracts of Kenny Phillips and Martellus Bennet both expire after this year, and Hakeem Nicks, Justin Tuck, David Diehl, Linval Joseph, Michael Boley and Corey Webster will need to be resigned or let go in 2014. Not all of those players will stay, but keeping Cruz should be a no brainer. The Giants’ passing attack has carried the team over the past two years, with Eli throwing for 4,933 yards in 2011 and 2,109 so far this season – which leads the league through 7 weeks. None of that is possible without Cruz, especially considering Nicks’ recent injury problems.
The Giants know they struck gold with Cruz, an undrafted free agent from UMass Amherst. When these types of success stories fall into your lap, you can’t simply let them go. To Cruz’s credit, he’s said all of the right things so far, insisting that he wants to retire a Giant and that he’s confident the contract situation will work itself out. But the fact that he’s been so mature about the process only makes it all the more urgent to keep him in a Big Blue uniform for the foreseeable future. My instinct says a long-term deal will get done this offseason, if not sooner. The Giants understand what they have, and Cruz deserves to be rewarded for his tremendous production over the past year and a half. One way or another, Cruz figures to be a Giant for a long, long time.