- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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If the New York Giants fan's worst nightmare comes true, and the contract dispute between the team and wide receiver Victor Cruz results in Cruz missing games this year, the Giants are going to need someone else to man the slot receiver position. At this point, the person on the roster who would do that appears to be Jerrel Jernigan, the third-round pick from the 2011 draft. Per Ohm:
Until Cruz comes to a long-term extension deal with the Giants, the coaching staff should give Jernigan more reps in the slot with Eli Manning.
"I know each year you are going to need new guys to step up," Manning said at a Guiding Eyes for the Blind event in White Plains on Monday. "[You] lose some guys, and if something happens you always want to be prepared. And hopefully Victor is back very soon and will play at a high level.
"Jerrel has to also be able to help us," Manning added. "He has speed and skills, he's been in the system now for a number of years. So hopefully he can step up and fill a role for us. The more talented guys you have on the team and make plays for you, the better off you will be."
This is the way the Giants do things. They develop players in their system until they get to the point where they can help them. It's entirely possible that a 2011 third-rounder could be ready to make a real contribution on the 2013 Giants, and Jernigan is a guy whose ability they clearly like. So they're not blowing smoke. If Cruz were to hold out and miss games (which I don't think will happen, but can't be fully ruled out), Jernigan is the guy who would play that spot.
On the one hand, if I'm Cruz, nothing I've seen from Jernigan so far would scare me into taking the Giants' offer right this minute. But on the other hand, part of the Giants' bargaining position is the idea that Steve Smith caught 107 passes out of that same spot in 2009 and that, as great as Cruz is, Manning is good enough to make a star out of any slot receiver. So while I'm not sitting here saying Jernigan will give the Giants what Cruz has given them the last two years, it's worth Cruz wondering whether they're really making plans for how they'd replace him, either this year or next year.
If they can't reach their long-term deal with Cruz, and if he leaves as a free agent after the 2013 season, the Giants likely would have to find someone on the market or in the draft to replace him. But if Cruz is planning to miss time this year over this contract situation, it's worth noting the team's plans for how they'd replace im.