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Palladino: Giants Have Good Reason For Concern Over Cruz

Victor Cruz (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)

Victor Cruz (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)

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By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Eli Manning and wife Abby are expecting their second child in June. Yet, if you ask him, the most nerve-wracking event of the next couple of months will be the wait for Victor Cruz’s long-term contract.

Second-year running back David Wilson is looking at a starting job come spring training. Yet, he’s all wrapped up in front-office contract matters. “If I was in charge, I would have gave (Cruz) a contract to make sure he don’t go nowhere,” Wilson said Thursday.

Why such a to-do over a wide receiver, even one with Pro Bowl credentials?

It’s because the quarterback, running back, and just about anyone else with a blue helmet and a lick of sense knows that Cruz has become, next to Manning, the indispensable entity of the Giants’ offense. For a fleeting moment, that distinction belonged to Hakeem Nicks, another wide receiver whose game-breaking ability captivated the Giants faithful.

But Nicks’ foot and knee injuries that turned him into a shell of himself last year has left a big, black cloud over his future effectiveness. Though Manning said he’s confident Nicks will return to full health after foot surgery last spring and a knee scope following a season of reduced speed and acceleration thanks to a Week 2 sprain, Nicks’ performance will remain a matter of seeing is believing.

Cruz, a healthy player, has thus ascended to the throne of offensive star. For a unit transitioning to a new tight end in Brandon Myers, iffy at running back as the back-flipping Wilson heads into a starting job, and light on big-play wide receivers, Cruz is the only sure thing in Manning’s arsenal now.

That’s why it’s no surprise Jerry Reese threw a first-round tender on him. He’s worth at least the $2.87 million that comes with the one-year contract, and much, much more once the GM gets around to closing out a long-term deal.

Reese, of course, is hoping somebody makes those negotiations easy for him. Given the Giants’ general reluctance to set the market on players, Reese is likely waiting to see if anyone out there can sign Cruz to an offer sheet. If that happens, the Giants can simply match it and be done with it.

The catch, of course, is that the signing team would have to give up a first-round pick if the Giants let Cruz go. That, and the approximately $6 million per year Cruz would command makes his departure as a restricted free agent unlikely.

Still, Manning so recognizes the importance of keeping Cruz around that he said he’s willing to restructure his contract to keep him. It’s not unusual for a quarterback to do that. Tom Brady helped New England clear $15 million of salary cap space with his restructuring this year. But Manning’s statement seemed to have a plaintive quality to it.

He knows how valuable Cruz has become, even as he also pushes for a long-term deal for Nicks.

The Rams and Vikings are the only two teams with two first-rounders in the draft, so it’s likely only those franchises would be willing to Cruz the market. The Vikings did sign Green Bay’s Greg Jennings, however, so that could narrow it down to just the Rams, unless someone else just wants to sit out the first round entirely.

Basically, there is little chance of the Giants losing Cruz, so Manning and Wilson should relax a bit. Their concern, though, indicates just how valuable a commodity the 2010 undrafted free agent has become in his two seasons of action.

Right now, he’s the only skill player the Giants can count on besides their quarterback.

The Giants certainly can’t afford to lose him. And they’d do well to lock him up for a long time.

Giants fans — do you think the team is handling Cruz’s situation the right way? Be heard in the comments…