Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz were virtually unguardable last season, combining for 2,728 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns—that’s more than half of Eli’s 4,933 passing yards and 29 passing touchdowns. Needless to say, losing either of these two receivers would be a big blow to the Giants’ pass-heavy offense, a potential nightmare scenario for a team whose Super Bowl run was so dependent on its dynamic passing game.
But as the post-Super Bowl feel-good period comes to a close and Big Blue begins its quest at defending its title, it seems possible—even likely—that either Nicks or Cruz will be sporting another uniform in the future.
Cruz, a free agent after this season, will earn a measly $540,000 in base salary in 2012, well below market value for a receiver of his caliber. Although he has scoffed at the notion that he would holdout this season, Cruz wants a new deal, and in all likelihood, he will get a new deal—whether that’s with the Giants or with another team remains to be seen. If there is no extension in place before the start of free agency next March, there’s a strong chance that Big Blue will be outbid for its salsa-dancing receiver.
Nicks still has two years before he hits the market, and his cap hits for those two seasons are just a bit over $2,000,000. But if the Giants sign Cruz after this season, the deal will likely trump Nicks’ by a wide margin. Would Nicks object to making less than Cruz on a per-year salary basis? Would he consider holding out in 2013?
Even if that’s a non-issue, Nicks will be looking for his big payday after the 2013 season, leaving Jerry Reese with a Giant-sized problem on his hands. Can the Giants afford to extend both Nicks and Cruz while staying under the cap?
Steve Smith signed an extension with the Panthers Tuesday, a deal that will keep him in Carolina at least through 2015. The deal guarantees Smith approximately $18 million over the next three seasons, with a club option for 2016. His cap hits the next three seasons are $6,250,000; $8,000,000; and $11,000,000.
Nicks and Cruz should be somewhere in that ballpark, I’d wager, but if they maintain last year’s production—a legitimate, if not likely, possibility—both would be in position to demand even more.
Obviously, there would be no issue here if Big Blue’s two star wideouts decided to take hometown discounts. But recent history says otherwise. To wit, Vincent Jackson—the most sought-after receiver in this year’s free agent class—signed a five-year $55.5 million deal with Tampa Bay. Jackson had other suitors, you can be sure of that. Why, then, would he settle for the Bucs, a team that finished 2011 on a 10-game losing streak? Well, money talks.
The Giants would have a hard time replacing either Nicks or Cruz, two of the best young wideouts in the game--not only because of Reese's tendency to refrain from going all in on non-Giants FA's, but also because it's hard to find receivers that pan out as well and as quickly as Nicks and Cruz both have.
Reese may need to work some cap magic in order to keep both of them around long-term.