Posted July 08, 2013

Victor Cruz’s new deal with Giants shows increasing value of slot receivers

New York Giants, NFC East
The Giants have reportedly offered Victor Cruz a five-year, $43 million extension.

The Giants and Victor Cruz have agreed to a five-year, $43 million extension. (Carlos M. Saavedra/SI)

Quick, name the NFL’s best wide receivers …

No doubt, you’re coming up with a list that includes the likes of Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant, Andre Johnson and a good dozen or so others who qualify as clear No. 1 threats.

OK, now name the league’s top slot receivers …

It’s a lot tougher challenge, and a much shallower pool from which to choose. There’s Percy Harvin, who missed seven games to injury last season; an aging Wes Welker; Randall Cobb, off his lone season as a full-time threat in Green Bay’s offense; maybe Danny Amendola, Welker’s replacement in New England.

And Victor Cruz.

In a nutshell, this is why the Giants opted to fork over a reported five-year, $43 million extension to Cruz, their dynamic slot receiver, while Hakeem Nicks sits waiting with a contract set to expire after 2013.

That is not to say that Nicks, with 255 receptions in four seasons, would be an easily replaceable commodity for the Giants should they choose to let him walk away as a free agent in the near future. He very well might, however, be a more replaceable player than Cruz, simply based on position alone.

As passing numbers continue to rise around the league, teams are looking high and low for that coveted slot receiver — a mismatch-creating, shifty weapon who doesn’t mind going across the middle but who also can catch and run for big yards. There are serviceable options or multi-dimensional players such as Miles Austin, who can slide into the slot position. There are very few game-changing, weapons there on the whole, though.

The Rams were so desperate for such a player, in fact, that they traded up in Round 1 this year to nab West Virginia’s Tavon Austin at No. 8 overall. New England, as mentioned above, wooed Amendola to the tune of $28.5 million, despite Amendola having missed 20 combined games over the past two seasons.

Cruz’s contract extension does not guarantee that he will repeat his successes from 2011 and ’12 (a combined 168 catches), nor does it ensure he will stay healthy. What it does do, however, is keep the Giants’ most productive receiver — and Eli Manning’s favorite target — from moping through the upcoming year. It also prevents the Giants from a contract/franchise tag standoff with Cruz next summer.

That drama may now be reserved for Nicks, who managed a career-low 692 receiving yards and three touchdowns last season. Simply bidding Nicks adieu after 2013 cannot be the Giants’ preference, but he’s a clear second in the pecking order to Cruz.

Part of that may be his diminished production during an injury-riddled 2012. Another factor may be a more prevalent list of options out wide at Nicks’ “X” position, including one on the Giants current roster in Rueben Randle. The Giants used a second-round pick on Randle in the 2012 draft, and he delivered three TDs (matching Nicks’ total) plus nearly 300 yards last season. All indications are that Randle will see an expanded role this coming year. If he bumps those numbers up and impresses the Giants’ staff, the franchise will have even more leverage in discussions with Nicks.

There is no question that the pressure is on Nicks to prove that it is in the Giants’ best interest to hand out another lucrative contract to a wide receiver.

New York decided it could not afford to lose Cruz, mainly because replacing him would be nearly impossible. Can the same be said about Nicks?

3 comments
jbummr50
jbummr50

Now if only the Giants can keep him away from Twitter...

Dave50
Dave50

Really?? Replacing Cruz would be impossible? Im sure you probably said the same thing about Steve Smith when he caught 107 balls in the slot in 09? Clearly you havent looked at the numbers, you may wanna see how much of Cruz's production has come as a result of Nicks commanding the double team and facing the oppositions best DB. When Cruz was forced to line up in the X, his numbers diminished. In fact, Nicks DNP 3 games last year, but also had 3 games where he suited up but was not healthy enough to play(had one catch in those 3 games)... In those 6 games, Vic went over the 100 rec. yard mark once. And it is foolish to think that Reuben Randle, who has 19 career catches, can just come in next year and replace Nicks production. Now, I agree he has to prove he can play a full 16 games before they lock him in long term... That being said, if Nicks plays 16 games this year.. I will guarantee he has a monster year comparable to what Dez Bryant did last year. You can not teach big hands, physical strength combined with good body positioning, and the ability to go up and get the ball at the highest point... those 3 things are what Nicks does best, in addition to being the Giants best Run Blocking WR.

John4
John4

Still waiting on that comment from jojomogir.