Paid like a star, Cruz must play like one
July, 8, 2013
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
So I think this is a good deal for the New York Giants, this $43 million for five years for wide receiver Victor Cruz. It's a lot closer to the number they wanted to pay him when this whole thing began than it is to the number he wanted. So in that respect, it's a "win" for the team. It's a lot of money to commit at wide receiver, especially with Hakeem Nicks heading into the final year of his own contract. But with Cruz locked up, the Giants can now franchise Nicks next year and keep him off the market if they so choose. If they hadn't signed Cruz long term, they may have been in the position of having to decide which wideout to franchise. Now, they'll have some degree of control over both.
That said, it's not as though Cruz is going to have a tough time making his mortgage payments. He's not going to make Mike Wallace money, or even DeSean Jackson or Miles Austin money, but the deal puts him in the average-annual-salary neighborhood of guys such as Antonio Brown and Pierre Garcon. Hardly an insult, especially considering Cruz is strictly a slot receiver who gets beaten up a bit when he moves outside and doesn't really contribute as a blocker.
On top of the financials, though, this deal is a sweet one for Cruz because it keeps him in New York, where he obviously wants to be. Cruz is serious about football and about continuing to put up the kinds of numbers he put up the past two years and about trying to win another Super Bowl. But aside from all of that, Cruz also likes the idea of being a star. He has his clothing line. He has plans to do some sort of TV show. He's got his Chunky Soup commercials. He's in on this Jay-Z Roc Nation deal. The young man likes the perks of stardom, and as long as Los Angeles is without an NFL team, New York is the place to be if you want to maximize that stuff.
So it's all set up for Cruz now. He's got the contract, the quarterback, the fellow star wideout who'll draw defenses' attention. He's got the big market and the opportunities that go with it. All he's got to do is to keep playing like the star he wants to be.
Cruz's numbers the past two years are star-caliber numbers, make no mistake. If you catch 168 passes for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns over two NFL seasons, you're a big-time producer, whether you're doing it out of the slot or on the outside or lining up in the backfield. Numbers are numbers, and Cruz has numbers. He also has delivered in big spots in playoff games and a Super Bowl. He has been everything the Giants want and need him to be.
But he's got to keep building on it. Three years from now, we've got to be looking back at those 2011 and 2012 reception and yardage numbers as the start of something big. We've got to be able to look at last year's nine drops as a fluke and not the beginning of a chronic problem. We've got to be looking at Cruz as a guy who can speed past defenses and make magic happen after QB Eli Manning gets the ball in his hands, who forces defenses to pay attention to him even though an elite-caliber talent like Nicks is beating people up on the outside and downfield.
If that's who Cruz is over the life of this new contract, then he's got every right to be any level of New York sports star he wants to be. If not -- and if the issues that cropped up in 2012 turn out to be closer to what he really is than the mind-boggling achievements of 2011 -- then the Giants could be looking back on this contract as a mistake.
Cruz wanted to be paid like a star and to stay in the market that can help make him one. He's set on both fronts. His mission now is to keep playing like a star. And if he does that, then he, the Giants and everyone connected with this situation will look back on this as a very happy day.