- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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I do not believe the Victor Cruz contract gives the New York Giants much leverage in their eventual contract negotiations with wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. Cruz is not Nicks, and Nicks is not Cruz. They play different positions and different roles in the Giants' offense. If Nicks gets hurt, or leaves as a free agent, it won't be as simple for the Giants as saying, "That's OK; we have Cruz." Nicks would need to be replaced as a big-bodied deep threat on the outside. Cruz is not those things, nor is he a helper as a blocker. And while his value is significant as a speedy slot receiver who creates mismatches against linebackers and safeties, his signing does not mean they don't have to worry about signing Nicks as well.
The only tangible way in which the Cruz signing helps the Giants vis-a-vis Nicks is by allowing them to franchise Nicks next offseason and keep him off the market while they work on a long-term deal. If Cruz were also up at that time, they'd have had to pick one and risk losing the other.
The Giants aren't likely to convince Nicks to negotiate a new deal this offseason, either. They'd like to, but there's no way Nicks wants to negotiate off the injury-plagued, disappointing 2012 season he just had. He'd much prefer to play well in 2013 and get to free agency with leverage brought on by the kinds of big numbers he knows he can produce if healthy. And the risk of injury isn't much of a deterrent, as injury problems in 2013 would leave him pretty much where he is now from a negotiating standpoint. There's the risk of catastrophic, career-ending injury, sure and if that's a significant fear it could bring Nicks to the bargaining table. But it hasn't so far, so there's no reason to think it will in the next two months.
The resolution of Nicks' situation depends on Nicks -- on his health and his productivity in 2013. If he plays to his first-round, Super Bowl-champion pedigree, then he'll get what he wants. The Giants may franchise him, but the Giants generally only franchise guys with whom they intend to work out long-term deals. Nicks will get his big contract in New York or with someone else if he performs in 2013. And while you're certainly going to hear Rueben Randle's name brought up in the coming season as a potential Nicks replacement, I wouldn't rush to bite down on that particular hook. Randle remains an unproven quantity, and he'd do well to even approach the level of play Nicks has delivered when healthy for the Giants. They might end up replacing Nicks with Randle, either next year or down the road, but it won't be because they chose to do so. Nicks is their big star receiver, the best weapon in an offense built around Eli Manning and the passing game. They'll spend big money to keep him, even with Manning and Cruz already signed for big bucks, even at the expense of some defense, because they know that passing game is what can elevate them back to championship heights.
The Giants' strong preference is to have Nicks on their team for years to come. We're all just going to have to wait until after this season to find out whether they get that wish.
9hDan Graziano and Adam Caplan