Thursday, February 7, 2013

Nicks and Cruz

What to do at the WR position? Victor Cruz finished a 3 year contract with the Giants and as such is an RFA. He has been very productive the last two years and has made noise about wanting a contract that puts him up there with the top 5 WRs in football. Nicks is in the last year of his rookie contract and will be UFA at the end of the 2013 season. Watching the Giants offense struggle this year when Nicks was so hampered by injury, it became most clear that Nicks is the player that really makes the Giants passing offense percolate (aside from # 10 of course). Cruz had a very good year, but defenses were able to stop him or at least control him when they could pay a little more attention to him with Nicks not the threat on the outside he usually is.

So - who should the Giants prioritize? In a perfect world, they would sign both of them, and I am sure they are trying to do that. But in the salary cap era, it may not be possible to sign both, so theoretically, Giants might have to pick just one.

Here are the arguments on both sides:

Nicks is the real star, he is the bigger threat. He can catch the ball in traffic and has the speed and size to play on the outside, which is the "big boy's" position among the WRs. Nicks can be productive without Cruz, but Cruz was much less productive without Nicks. That argues, of course for signing Nicks as a priority and doing the best to retain Cruz, but ultimately letting him go if they have to.

The flip side is this: While Nicks is the better player and the more complete threat, dangerous players at his position come into the league every year and it might be easier to replace him with another at least approximating his ability. In fact, they may already have a player on the roster in Reuben Randle that can be an excellent threat on the outside. Conversely, while it is true that Cruz may need the protection of a partner on the outside who can open up the field, he is the most dangerous slot receiver in football and that position is very difficult to replace.

The other factor to consider in these plans is how the salary cap will move in the next few years. That influences how much money teams have to offer the FAs and how much competition the Giants would have for these player's services. A new TV deal starts in 2014 but most people seem to think that the cap will not increase much until 2015 when there will be a modest bump of about 2-3% and a more significant bump in 2016. This means that FAs this year and next year will not get massive deals offered to them because teams just don't have a lot of money to spend.

Therefore the best plan for the Giants would be:
1. Extend Nicks contract now.  Giants would probably get a better deal for him since he is getting the security of signing before his contract is up. Joe Flacco rolled the dice played out the last year of his contract and seemed to have won his gamble. But what if Flacco had injured his shoulder during the season? Nicks might be happy to sign now at a cap friendly deal and lock in security.
2. Tender a contract to RFA Cruz which gives them a 1st round draft choice if someone signs him. If another team offers him a manageable contract, match it. If the deal has a poison pill in it, let Cruz leave. If Cruz stays under the tendered deal, sign him next year when even more teams will be in salary cap hell with the cap being flat for a 3rd straight year and the Giants might have less competition for his services.
3. (Nothing to do with cap) Get Jernigan some playing time and find out if he can be a good slot receiver in the NFL.

Salary Cap Cuts

I once heard Jerry Reese say when he was talking about roster construction "you have to be careful not to fall in love with your own players". He is sure living up to that mantra this off season cutting three players that had important roles contributing to the Super Bowl a year ago, and one of them, Bradshaw, contributing also to the previous one in 2007. He did the same thing a few years ago when he let Kevin Boss walk at TE and did not match the offer by the Raiders. Though I didn't agree with exactly the way he managed the process, making an offer to Boss and letting him shop it all over the league, but it turned out to be the right move to let him walk. We'll see how these cuts work out - it's hard to argue with any of them. All three players were very good NFL starters and have had good careers. But Boley and Canty have seen their production and playing time decline over the last year and have suffered through the types of injuries which seem to indicate wear and tear, perhaps indicating that there is not much tread left on the tire. It's better to get rid of a player a year too early than a year too late especially when you're constricted by the salary cap and have to throw some money at your own FAs.

Bradshaw, while he was probably the best of the three players cut may have been the easiest decision because of the depth currently on the roster at his position. Wilson and Brown (RFA whose contract  can be controlled) are there to fill the void. At DT Giants have only Linval Joseph as a good player who is  locked in. Marvin Austin looks like a bust, Rocky Bernard is also a FA so Giants will have to add some DL strength. The LBs were weak last year, and cutting Boley leaves a group with Paysinger, Williams, Blackburn and Herzlich that need to be upgraded. Rivers is also in the group but he is a FA also.

It's almost a given that Osi will not be resigned and Kiwanuka will move to DE. Unless - could the Giants plan something radical like moving Tuck permanently inside to DT and resigning Osi as the 3-DE rotation with Kiwanuka and JPP? Unlikely.

 The flip side of not falling in love with your own players and not overpaying to keep them is that sometimes you underrate your own players also. A year ago the Giants let Manningham walk. It was no doubt based largely on salary cap but also on the fact that we saw Manningham running the wrong routes one too many times causing throws by Eli to go into empty space on the field. When the player is on your team, you see him up close, warts and all and sometimes dismiss the good. I am not saying it was a bad decision to let Mario walk, but looking at Giants struggles in the passing game this year with Nicks hurt, it might have been nice to have Manningham.

IMO, Giants are not done cutting. These cuts saved them about 14-15M and they are now about 3 or 4 M under the cap, depending whose numbers you believe. There are some of their own players that they need to throw some money at and make some decisions upon the most prominent of which are: Nicks, Cruz and Beatty.

I think Webster may not survive. Diehl will probably go, but not until they resign Beatty. Giants will not keep both Phillips and Stevie Brown who are FAs. I suspect they will let Phillips go, even though he is a very good player, because of his injury history. If Brown is too expensive they may let him walk also. It's possible that Will Hill will be an important player for Giants next year as a S who can run and also hit, and can be useful defensing the running QB trend in the league.

Giants may try to restructure Rolle who is getting paid a lot of money.

Cutting these three players also may move Coughlin off of his unwritten-but-seldom-violated rule of not playing rookies until game 10 or 12 of his rookie season. If Giants cut more veterans, he will have no choice.