For Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the opportunity to score a multi-year contract as a restricted free agent makes sense, since he most likely wouldn’t be one of the top targets in free agency in 2014.
For Giants receiver Victor Cruz, a different analysis applies. With most teams not paying as much in free agency as they used to and with Cruz quite likely the Mike Wallace of next year’s free-agency foray, it doesn’t make sense to take anything other than a Wallace-style payday now.
Given that the team signing Cruz will have to also give up a first-round pick if the Giants don’t match the offer, it’s less likely that anyone will put together the kind of offer that will prompt Cruz to bite. Especially since he’s now represented by CAA.
Even if Cruz gets the franchise tag from the Giants, next year’s version of this year’s $10.54 million franchise tender could be better than the kind of offers Cruz could get now, during one of the worst free-agency periods since the NFL embraced real free agency in 1993.
There’s another dynamic to keep in mind. With both Cruz and Hakeem Nicks due to become free agents in 2014, each will be reluctant to go first in re-signing with the Giants, since the second one will try to get more than the first.
In the end, the Giants may have to choose between the two players like the Steelers did between Antonio Brown and Wallace, and the thinking is that, indeed, G.M. Jerry Reese prefers Nicks to Cruz. But whether Cruz gets tagged or walks in 2014, he’ll likely do a lot better as an unrestricted free agent next year than he’ll do as a restricted free agent now.
If, of course, he stays healthy.