Victor Cruz was the revelation of the football season at wide receiver. Calvin Johnson, of course, was the dominant force, but that was expected given his pedigree and draft status. Cruz, meanwhile, came out of undrafted nowhere, wasn’t even a starter at the beginning of the season, yet finished with the 23rd most receiving yards in a season all-time.
Now, he wants to get paid. Understandable in the sense that he will likely never have a season close to this again. That’s a pretty safe statement regardless of whether he turns out to be a complete flash in the pan, or a player with a pretty good career. Seasons with 1,500 yards receiving don’t grow on trees.
Because he was an undrafted free agent, Cruz is only on a three-year deal, with the final year being next season. After that, of course, he would be a restricted free agent, and any other team signing him would be required to give up draft pick compensation.
The Giants must also face the question of how much they value Cruz, and whether their perception is in line with his own. The problem for Cruz right now is that one great season does not necessarily mean a great career, and whether you are 25 or 35, NFL teams pay for what you can do in the future, not what you just did. (and yes, sometimes those blur, as what you just did leads teams to project more).
Here is a list of other “breakouts” between the ages of 24 and 26 (Cruz turned 25 in November) who had at least 1,200 yards in a season, and never had 700 or more receiving yards in any previous year.
I ordered that list by draft order, from 1st rounders to undrafted free agents like Cruz. The first round breakouts tended to hold their value better (only Tim McGee never had another 1,000 yard season). Now, Cruz had the best season of any of those guys, but if you were setting an optimistic view for Cruz right now, it would be more like one of my childhood heroes, Carlos Carson. I expect that the Giants will be willing to pay Cruz, depending on his expectations. If his expectations are in line with good #2 receiver, then maybe.
However, if he is really confident in his skills, then his best move may be to play out the next season. We know he is likely to regress in terms of yards, even if he plays well. He had 5 touchdowns of more than 60 yards in 2011, and the 13 other seasons in the Super Bowl era when a wide receiver had 4 or more touchdowns resulted in a drop to 1.3 long touchdowns the next season. If he puts up a solid season, a nice 65 catch, 1,000 yard year, though, his projection improves dramatically. Just as he is hitting restricted free agency and teams might be willing to risk a first round pick, he will also have more clout.
The list of guys that had 2,400 or more receiving yards combined over ages 25 and 26 reads more like a list of at least good to great receivers. Guys like Carlos Carson and Carl Pickens represent the bottom of the list, rather than the average.
[photo via Getty]