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.