Don’t go thinking that Victor Cruz’s signing of his free agency tender means the drama is over. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
But that’s another issue for another column.
In this piece I will try to find out what exactly Cruz’s contractual worth is. It’s one of the more difficult things to grasp in today’s NFL; due mostly in part to the increased role of slot receivers in NFL offenses.
To set the parameters for a slot receivers value I’ll start by letting the average annual value of Percy Harvin’s contract set the bar as the most money one could ever dream of making. Harvin’s new contract carries an average annual value of $11,166,667. On the other end of the spectrum you have the most productive slot receiver in the history of the game, Wes Welker, only making $6M a season on a two year deal. Of course, there is a large age gap between the two, seven years, but still, the discrepancy in their wages really does speak to the lack of clarity where the value of these types of receivers are concerned.
And in case you’re wondering, Cruz is trying to land somewhere in the range of $8M or more annually on a long-term deal. The Giants probably won’t give him more than $6.5 to $7M, if that. If this contract dispute hasn’t gotten ugly yet, believe me, it will.
What makes it so extremely difficult to determine Cruz’s value is that he isn’t your typical slot receiver. In comparison with some of the better known slot receivers, players like Welker, Danny Amendola, Percy Harvin and Randall Cobb only Harvin played less on a percentage basis (59.8% to Cruz’s 69.7%) in the slot. Also, of the aforementioned slot receivers Cruz has the most deep targets (routes where he was targeted 20 or more yards downfield) with 20; only one of which was dropped.
Also, something has to be said for the amount of attention that was taken away from Cruz with Hakeem Nicks lined up on the outside. For the better part of last season Cruz was playing in single or soft zone coverage while Nicks was drawing double coverage play after play on the outside. As teams adapted and began to play more press and double coverage on Cruz he struggled mightily. And the stats show it. Through Cruz’s first eight weeks of the season he averaged 81 yards a game, and in his final eight games that dropped to 55.
There’s also the undeniable fact that slot receivers have always thrived in the Giants offense. What better example of that than Steve Smith? You know, the not so good Steve Smith who recently retired. Well, much like Cruz, Smith performed exceptionally well for the Giants in the slot. He posted a 1,220 yard season, before injuries, another season and a lengthy contract dispute saw him depart for the Philadelphia Eagles. In the three seasons since that 1,220 yard season he’s totalled only 784. This of course is in large part due to injuries, but even when he was healthy Smith was but an afterthought in the Eagles and St.Louis Rams offenses.
So with all this in mind, what exactly is Cruz worth? If I’m Cruz I take $6.5M and run with it. He’s not the best slot receiver in the business and he doesn’t make up for that what little offense he brings to the table on the outside. He’s a very valuable member of this Giants offense, but by no stretch of the imagination is he anywhere near the level of receiver Nicks is. As such, the Giants are in the right to try and get Cruz for as reasonably low as possible so that they can use any saved money to keep Nicks.
You can follow J.D Burke: @JDBurkeOV