Now that the Victor Cruz contract debacle has been put to rest, the No. 1 priority of the New York Giants' front office becomes extending fellow starting wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Cruz's extension, which could keep him in New York for six years and is worth up to $46 million, helps the Giants in two ways in regard to keeping Nicks.
First, they didn't break the bank. As we explained Monday, it's essentially a two-year deal worth $15.6 million, which is extremely team friendly when you consider that Cruz has been one of the five most productive receivers in football since the start of 2011.
During that span, Cruz has remained relatively healthy while Nicks has missed four games due to various injuries. Even when healthy, he's been significantly less productive than Cruz in terms of receptions, yards, touchdowns and deep passes.
So while Nicks will likely demand more money as a prototypical "outside" receiver, a former top pick and a player who is younger than Cruz, the fact that he's been a less prominent contributor than his teammate will make it harder for him to get an eight-figure-a-year deal from the G-Men.
Second, the franchise tag has been freed up. Now that Cruz won't be a free agent in the 2014 offseason, the Giants have the ability to keep Nicks regardless of the state of negotiations by slapping him with the tag.
At the very least, that would buy them an extra four months to iron out a new deal. In the worst-case scenario, that would give them one more year with Nicks at about $10.5 million (the tag price for wide receivers in 2013). They're expected to have more cap space next year than they did this year, according to OvertheCap.com, so the tag wouldn't likely be a huge burden if they can't agree on something long term.
The Giants clearly grasp how important it is to surround quarterback Eli Manning with as many weapons as possible right now. The defense ranked 31st in the league last year, and there are questions about the running game.
This team has to continue to make a living through the air, which is why it has invested in maintaining the offensive line (top pick Justin Pugh) and keeping the receiving corps stacked (Cruz's extension, plus 2012 second-round pick Rueben Randle).
But while Cruz might not be your standard "X" or "Z" wideout, he might be more unique than Nicks. Rarely do you find game-changing receivers like him who play the slot, and the presence of Randle could complicate things for Nicks.
As we noted last month, a breakout sophomore campaign from the LSU product might also hurt Nicks' value, especially if Nicks continues to deal with injuries in 2013. The two are very similar players, so a big season from Randle as the No. 3 receiver could scare the Giants away from paying Nicks what he'd be able to fetch on the open market.
And if that happens, it's probably safe to say the franchise tag would be out of the question.
Of course, in a perfect world, Randle emerges, Cruz keeps burning it up and Nicks stays healthy while posting his third 1,000-yard season. Then Nicks signs for, say, $9 million a year (borderline top-10 receiver money), and Randle is forced to prove that he belongs during the final two years of his rookie deal.
That's the thing about having a talented receiving corps and a top-tier passing game. You're perpetually trying to keep your top producers wrapped up. Cruz's contract could become an issue again when he goes year-to-year in 2015, and Randle will be entering a contract year at the exact same time.
If all three receivers live up to expectations in this offense, it'll become harder and harder to keep them in blue, red and white.
What's important right now, though, is that Cruz's new deal increases Nicks' chances of being on the roster at a reasonable rate in 2014 and beyond.
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