Victor Cruz: Restricted Free Agent Is Worth a Team's 1st-Round Draft Choice

Eli Nachmany@EliNachmanyCorrespondent IIIMarch 8, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 30:  Victor Cruz #80 of the New York Giants runs with the ball after a catch against  Nnamdi Asomugha #24 of the Philadelphia Eagles  in action during their game against the at MetLife Stadium on December 30, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

In recent years, restricted free agents assigned a "first-round tender" draw little to no interest from other teams around the league due to the immense, franchise-changing value that a first-round draft choice can have.

This year, things are a bit different.

With a lackluster draft class, teams have to value their first-round picks a bit less, and with the way the system is currently in place, giving up a first-round selection for a player of Cruz's caliber isn't all that bad of a deal.

Put yourself in the place of an NFL general manager in need of a receiver: Would you rather draft Keenan Allen (assuming he'll still be available, which he probably won't be due to a team like the St. Louis Rams with their second pick or the Houston Texans), a 21-year-old receiver whose value is based off of potential or give up the pick for Cruz, who is just five years older at the age of 26 and has been an elite wideout (in terms of production) over the past two seasons?

The choice is obvious.

Now, I acknowledge that things aren't that simple, for the team taking on Cruz would also have to sign the wideout to a long-term contract, but the value still can't be ignored.

To get an idea of a past example of a move like this, look no further than the Atlanta Falcons trading a second-round draft pick for tight end Tony Gonzalez back in the offseason following the NFL's 2008 campaign.

Gonzalez was 33 years old at the time but still performing like one of the best tight ends in the league. He continued his success over the past four years in Atlanta, propelling the Falcons all the way to the NFC championship game as recently as last season.

The trade worked out for Atlanta as the team received a top-shelf tight end and added a dangerous element to its offense in the red zone.

The question now is whether or not Cruz, seven years younger and a wide receiver, not a tight end, is worth a pick just one round higher.

For teams looking to add instant offense instead of waiting on a prospect like Allen, Tavon Austin or Cordarrelle Patterson (especially Patterson; he may not start being an effective playmaker for at least two or three years), Cruz is a perfect fit. The Rams have two first-round picks this season and would be wise to spend one on the restricted free agent.

When comparing Cruz to the other wide receivers on the market, from Greg Jennings to Mike Wallace, one can make the case that, with a subpar draft class and Cruz's track record as a top-tier wideout, this New York Giants pass-catcher is one of the best players available at his position regardless of cost.

He'll be a player to watch in the upcoming weeks.

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