Victor Cruz earned his opportunity with the Giants in the summer of 2011 after Steve Smith suffered a serious knee injury late the previous season, but now Cruz risks losing a huge payday if he doesn’t go to school on what happened with Smith.
Cruz, a restricted free agent, has been offered a long-term deal by the Giants that the Daily News has reported is worth more than $7 million per year with significant guaranteed money, which is a nice pay raise for an undrafted free agent whose base salaries the last two years totalled $990,000 as he was catching 168 passes from Eli Manning. As long as the structure is favorable, Cruz would be foolish to turn down that money and security.
He has until April 19 to sign an offer sheet with another team — that now seems very unlikely — that the Giants would have the chance to match or take a first-round pick as compensation.
Once April 19 passes, Cruz’s options for 2013 are to sign a new long-term contract with the Giants or play for the $2.879M tender (assuming the Giants don’t play hardball and reduce it to $594,000, which is 110% of his 2012 salary, their right if he hasn’t signed by June 15) and then become an unrestricted free agent in 2014. The Giants could use the franchise tag on him next year.
The tag this year for wide receivers is $10.5 million, and figuring it will go up a bit next year, it would bring Cruz’s two-year compensation to about $14 million — a little short of the $7 million-plus average the Giants are offering him now.
The risk: What happens if Cruz suffers a serious injury in 2013, as Smith did in 2010, and his market value is drastically reduced?
Here’s where Cruz must be smart. Smith was headed for a big contract with the Giants late in the 2010 season — there were reports he turned down a five-year $35 million offer with $15 million guaranteed — before he suffered a major knee injury that December. Once Smith was hurt, the Giants’ big-money offer was off the table. Smith denied knowledge of the offer, but Giants co-owner John Mara said the team made him an offer that would have made him one of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL.
Smith ticked off the Giants in the summer of 2011 when he elected to sign a one-year deal with the Eagles for $4 million, which was more than they were offering. He played for the Rams last year for $2.5 million and is currently a free agent after catching only 25 passes playing in 18 games the last two years.