By Ernie Palladino
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John Mara doesn't miss very often. So when he tells the NFL Network that he's confident a long-term deal will get done with Victor Cruz before training camp, you can take some stock in that.
Ideally, though, it would be better to get this done sooner than later. The offseason conditioning program, a time when quarterbacks and receivers can hone their on-field rapport and get on the same page in a relatively pressure-free environment, started on April 15, and Cruz was nowhere in sight.
He's still the invisible man, even though the time for hunting around for better offers ended for Cruz with the April 19 offer-sheet deadline. His restricted free-agent tender of $2.879 million remains unsigned, and now he's busy haggling with no leverage save for an extended absence and, ultimately, damage to his reputation and potential production.
All the Giants can do is keep working with Cruz' new reps at CAA and hope the kid takes the approximately $8 million per year they're offering, a gig that comes with between $15 million and $18 million worth of guaranteed greenery.
Cruz, of course, is holding out for around $10 million per year. In keeping with the way these things usually go, Cruz -- or at least his agents -- are overpricing him right now. As dynamic and popular as the kid is, he's had exactly two years of productivity in the NFL. Good productivity, granted. And there's no saying that those reception numbers won't go up in the succeeding years assuming he stays healthy.
But if Cruz doesn't have a deal in time for an on-time arrival for training camp, he'll be doing himself and the Giants a disservice. This is the team that gave the undrafted free agent his shot in the preseason of 2010, and stuck with him after a hamstring injury derailed his rookie season after three games.
He has since become a Pro Bowler, but he risks a down season with a prolonged absence.
Given the Giants' receiver situation -- Hakeem Nicks is coming off an injury-marred season, Domenik Hixon has run off to Carolina and Martellus Bennett is now a Bear -- Cruz must be considered the unquestioned leader of a group that is looking for bigger numbers from Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan. And it's always bad when a leader doesn't make himself available during each and every team activity.
The advantage right now is that whatever Cruz misses in the offseason program can easily be made up come training camp. It's the prospect of this thing lingering until August that should have management worried.
But it apparently doesn't. General manager Jerry Reese appears to be sitting tight on his offer. Mara, always salary-cap conscious, said Tuesday that he expects Cruz and his agent to come to their senses sooner than later. After all, what the Giants are offering is a vast amount compared to the $490,000 he earned in the final season of his rookie contract in 2012.
It's his right to look for more money. But it's Cruz's duty to sign a new deal -- one that will make him a genuinely rich man even if it doesn't top the NFL salary charts -- in due time.
The next three months are going to fly by. Getting their star wide receiver under contract sooner rather than later will only benefit the Giants, and take the heat off a kid whose public statements indicate that he wants nothing more than to stick with New York anyway.
He should sign on the dotted line.
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