As everyone was focused on when and if unsigned Giants receiver Victor Cruz will rejoin the team, the other big-name player at that same position who has a contract opted to skip OTA practice on Wednesday.
The situation, and the head coach’s reaction, create some potential problems for the Giants.
Throughout the offseason, we’ve pointed out the link between Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Cruz has no contract now, Nicks will have no contract in a year. If Cruz ultimately signs his one-year restricted free agency tender, both will be hitting the market in 2014 — and the team will have only one franchise tender to apply.
It has been believed in some circles that Nicks’ demands will be driven by what Cruz gets. As one league source with knowledge of the situation has explained it to PFT, Nicks doesn’t care what Cruz gets, because Cruz is a slot receiver. Nicks, an outside receiver, had his value set by Mike Wallace’s contract in Miami.
While this doesn’t mean Nicks will be looking for $12 million per year, it does mean that Nicks doesn’t regard Cruz’s deal as being relevant to his.
Nicks’ absence from practice on Wednesday undoubtedly means that Nicks isn’t happy with the team’s efforts, or lack thereof, to address his contract with one year remaining on his rookie deal. With Nicks saying nothing to dispel that notion, it’s safe to assume Nicks was sending a clear message to the team.
The other problem for the Giants comes from the message coach Tom Coughlin sent in response to Nicks’ decision to skip practice.
“He should be here,” Coughlin said. “I expect everybody here. We’re trying to get our team better.”
Under the pre-2011 labor deals, coaches routinely made public comments suggesting that voluntary workouts aren’t truly voluntary, and the NFL and the union rarely if ever did anything about it. As time went by, with more coaches saying things like “he should be here” and the league and the NFLPA doing nothing, coaches were emboldened to keep doing it.
The new CBA, however, added significant restrictions to offseason workouts, along with a clear commitment to eradicate contact from offseason drills. The CBA also repeated the unequivocal statement that “[n]o Club official may indicate to a player that the Club’s offseason workout program or classroom instruction is not voluntary.”
Last week, Jets coach Rex Ryan danced toward that line by calling out linebacker Quinton Coples for his perceived lack of effort at voluntary lifting sessions. This week, Coughlin jumped over the line by saying that Nicks and every other player “should be here.” If the league and union allow those comments to stand uncorrected, other coaches will follow suit, either this year or in the future.
The fact that the comment came from the coach of the team co-owned by John Mara adds some intrigue to this specific situation. For more than a year, Cowboys and Redskins fans have been riled up by Mara’s role in the stripping of $46 million in total salary-cap space from two of the Giants’ NFC East rivals. The Cowboys and Redskins, however, broke no rules.
Here, Coughlin clearly did. The only question is whether the rule will be enforced. Cowboys and Redskins fans, whose teams were punished for rules they didn’t break, surely will be watching closely.