Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Monday, March 11, 2013
Mara, Cruz and public negotiating

By Dan Graziano

The news of the day, not surprisingly, was the New York Giants tendering restricted wide receiver Victor Cruz at a first-round level, which means that any team who wants to sign Cruz would have to give the Giants a first-round pick. Assuming that doesn't happen (and it really hardly ever does), Cruz's salary for this year is scheduled to be $2.879 million. But the interesting part of today's story was the extent to which Giants owner John Mara was willing to address the contract negotiations the team has had with Cruz about a long-term deal. Per Jenny Vrentas at The Star-Ledger:
Those talks have so far been fruitless, and while Mara declined to say how close the sides got, he believes the Giants' "very substantial" offer is a good one for Cruz.

"I'm not going to get into dollars," Mara said. "I don't want to characterize (the gap). Let's just say if he took our offer, he'd be a very wealthy young man." ...
Mara said he believes in the long-term Cruz will be a Giant, but he added, "time will tell."

"I think Victor is smart enough to realize that he belongs in this area," Mara added to a response, unprompted. "I think he’s done very well for himself off the field. He’s a very popular player here. He’s had a lot of off the field opportunities. So hopefully all those other things will enter into his consideration."

It's interesting because it offers a window into the Giants' side of these negotiations. They are trying to get Cruz on the cheap. They love what he's done and the success he's had the last two years with Eli Manning, but they're remembering a season not too far in the past in which Steve Smith had 100 catches as Manning's slot receiver, and they don't want to pay real No. 1 wideout money for a guy who's best used in the slot and, they believe, could be replaced due to the ability of their quarterback to maximize receivers' production. Especially since their No. 1 wideout, Hakeem Nicks, has a deal that expires after the coming season and will need a new contract as well.

The last thing Mara said, about off-field reasons Cruz would likely want to stay in the New York market, is true. And it'll likely result in Cruz taking less money to stay. The question is how much less, and the fact that the deal has not yet been done indicates that it's far less than Cruz and his agent believe his production justifies.

Basically, I wouldn't put too much stock into anything the team owner says in a situation like this. What Mara said about Cruz today was obviously designed to try to get public sentiment on the side of the team as it negotiates with (and probably lowballs) a very popular player. I also wouldn't worry too much about another team swooping in and giving the Giants a first-round pick for Cruz -- even the Vikings, who have an extra one after today's Percy Harvin trade. Mike Wallace was a restricted free-agent wide receiver a year ago and generated no interest at all, and this year he'll be one of the highest-paid free agents on the market. The RFA market just isn't a real thing. Teams prize those first-round picks too much.

So in the end, I still think this Cruz deal with the Giants get done. The fact that Mara's saying so much out loud about it -- a week after coach Tom Coughlin was spouting pretty much the same company line -- indicates that it's been tougher than the team expected it to be. That could be because of unreasonably high demands from Cruz, but it could just as easily be because of an unreasonably low offer from the Giants.