Wide receiver Victor Cruz had to take a big pay cut if he was going to remain with the New York Giants in 2016. Everyone, including Cruz, who hasn't played since tearing the patellar tendon in his right knee in Week 6 of 2014, has known this for a very long time.
It got done Wednesday, with Cruz and the Giants agreeing to a reworked contract that reduces his base salary for 2016 from $7.9 million to $3 million and allows him to earn back another $2.5 million through performance-based incentives.
What's interesting about the restructure is that there was no change to either of the other two remaining years of the contract. Cruz is signed for 2017 and 2018 at salaries of $7.4 million and $8.4 million and cap numbers of $9.4 million and $8.5 million -- numbers that still represent the high level of production Cruz was delivering when he signed this contract in 2013.
Now, there's no way the Giants are going to pay Cruz at those numbers unless he comes back and performs like one of the best receivers in the league. Which means that, this time next year, Cruz and the Giants will probably find themselves in the same situation -- needing to cut Cruz's salary for him to stay with the team.
But that's next year's problem, and this year's restructure allows Cruz to take step one, which is to play at all. He didn't play even a single preseason down last year before a calf injury in the other leg wiped out his season, and the Giants still haven't seen him play since he tore up his knee 17 months ago. They have no idea whether he can ever again be the kind of player he was before the knee injury, and they won't until they see him in game action. That means August at the absolute earliest.
It's worth pointing out that the $3 million guarantee is more than the Giants had to give Cruz, a player from whom they have no idea what to expect. They paid him $4 million for six games in 2014 and $6.15 million for no games in 2015 and could certainly have told him he had to cut down to the veteran minimum or get released. But Cruz's counter-argument is of course that in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, he made less than $1 million while catching 168 passes for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns. Yeah, you overpaid me the past two years, but you underpaid me way back when, so it kind of evens out, right?
This reminded me of last year, when the Giants brought back Jason Pierre-Paul on a contract more generous than they needed to give him, and leads me to point out that the Giants treat their people pretty well. They want the best for Cruz, and while he and they both acknowledge that he had to have his salary cut under the circumstances, they didn't play hardball with him. If he can make the physical comeback, the mental and emotional benefits of that kind of treatment by his employer could pay dividends. Everything right now is an "if" with Cruz, but everyone is hoping he ends up being underpaid again in 2016.