No Promises

It’s March 13th and lo, NFL free agency is already off to a flying start.  So far, a little under 24 hours into the festivities, Wide Receiver seems to be position of the day.  It all began with the Seattle Seahawks shipping off a 1st and 7th round draft pick for the explosive Percy Harvin.  The move, while costly (especially considering the amount of dollars that Seattle will likely have to pay Harvin to keep him long term) provides an outstanding playmaker in Russell Wilson’s growing arsenal.  Then, in a rare move, the defending Super Bowl Champion Ravens sent one of their star wide receivers, Anquan Boldin, to the team that fell to them a little over a month ago, the San Francisco 49ers.  The cost?  A 6th round pick.  The differences in the two trades are clear; Harvin is young, still essentially playing on his rookie deal, while Boldin is beginning to enter that year-by-year phase so many longtime pros hit.  All in all however, both moves are beneficial to all involved.  The Vikings shipped out a disgruntled receiver who was never likely to resign and get a late first rounder to continue their rebuilding.  Baltimore meanwhile at least got something for a player they clearly no longer could afford, and will look to get younger and cheaper around a core of Ray Rice and $100 million man Joe Flacco.  Heavy lies the crown in this business, and when you win those that helped achieve the ultimate goal want to get paid for it; hence the parity that so many in the NFL take pride in.

Harvin was involved in the first major move of the season, going to Seattle for a 1st round pick

Harvin was involved in the first major move of the season, going to Seattle for a 1st round pick

Still, there was action on the wide receiver front beyond the trade market.   The Miami Dolphins have landed the first big fish of the Free Agent market by signing former Pittsburgh star Mike Wallace, almost as soon as the starting gun was fired.  Determined to bring in a bona fide playmaker for Ryan Tannehill, they wasted no time in inking Wallace.   Elsewhere, Dwayne Bowe surprisingly signed long-term in Kansas City.  I say surprising of course, because who the hell wants to sign long-term in KC right now?  Even with Andy Reid now steering the ship, it doesn’t exactly strike me as the place to be.  I will commend Bowe though, as it’s gotten rarer that homegrown stars stay long-term. Which leaves us with the two big names that remain: Wes Welker who’s unrestricted and available (for the moment), as well as the restricted Victor Cruz.

Wallace was first major free agent to sign, $30 million guaranteed

Wallace was first major free agent to sign, inking with Miami for $30 million guaranteed

In all likelihood, I’d bet Welker ends up back in New England.  While they will probably not offer the best or highest paying contract, Welker has functioned excellently in that offense (something he was never able to do in Miami).  Despite the various issues that have popped up in the last few seasons (the foot fetish dig at Rex Ryan, the benching in Week 1 after a holdout, the press leaks saying Welker was being phased out of the offense, and of course the infamous drop) it’s hard to imagine him skipping town on the Belichick-Brady crew that has made him such a good player, and given him multiple chances at winning the Super Bowl (Edit:  Of course hours after I post this Welker signs in Denver…oh well).  So with Boldin now in San Francisco, Harvin in Seattle, Wallace in Miami, Welker likely returning to New England  in Devnver, along with all of the major wide out signings from last season (Vincent Jackson, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, etc.), speculation has run wild regarding the future of Victor Cruz.

The speculation really began immediately following last season and into training camp.  The Giants, fresh off a surprisingly excellent season looked like a serious offensive power.  Much of that was because of #80.  Prior to 2011, the Giants still seemed unable to replace WR Steve Smith, whom they let walk in free agency the year before.  The thought was that rookie Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, along with Dominik Hixon and Ramses Barden could be a solid enough receiving core to make up for the loss of Smith.  The problem was, Barden never panned out, Hixon tore his ACL, and the Giants were left with the likes of Jerrel Jernigan and practice squad scrubs to fill the void, resulting in a 10-6 team that failed to make the playoffs.  The next season, the Giants begin the year with Nicks/Manningham/Hixon with some new faces in camp, including Cruz who never made it to the team the last year due to injury.  In week 2, Hixon once again tore his ACL…but the front office decided to bring in Brandon Stokely, against OC Kevin Gillbride’s wishes, rather than fill the void internally.  The thing is that Stokely wasn’t going to be ready for the Week 3 game against Philadelphia.  Enter Cruz who took the first pass he caught up the sideline, juking the great Nnamdi Asomugha out of his cleats, and into the end zone.  He would catch 6 passes on the day with 2 TDs, give birth to the salsa, and continue on to crush Giant single-season yardage records.

Cruz's first trip to the end zone came at the expense of 2011's biggest free agent signing, Nnamdi Asomugha (#24)

Cruz’s first trip to the end zone came at the expense of 2011’s biggest free agent signing, Nnamdi Asomugha (#24)

NFL contracts, unlike the other Big 4 sports, are not guaranteed.  This flip side of free agency is on display right now, as veterans across the league are getting cut for various reasons (injuries, poor production, bad attitude, etc.).  The only important aspect anyone need pay attention to when it comes to NFL deals is the guaranteed money.  Take the Dwayne Bowe contract for example:  the headline reads 5-years, $56 million.  But what’s he really getting paid, or in other words, what’s it really costing the Chiefs?  He gets a guaranteed $15 million signing bonus, $750,000 guaranteed base salary for 2013 with a $250,000 workout bonus (basically if he’s in the gym when he’s supposed to be he gets the money), $4.25 million guaranteed in 2014, and $1.5 million guaranteed in 2015.  So it reads for $56 million, but as of now, the Chiefs only really owe him $26 million.  If they cut him down the road, they’re not obligated to pay more than that amount.  As Deion Sanders once said after signing $100 million deal, “You guys are crazy if you think I’m gonna see all this money.”  Such is life in the NFL.

 

Bowe, elected to remain in KC after the hiring of Andy Reid

Bowe, elected to remain in KC after the hiring of Andy Reid

 

That is why you see so many contract holdouts.  Every time a player has a big year, it may be his last or only chance to secure a good guaranteed deal.  An injury the following season or a drop in production can result in the window for a big contract closing for good.  Entering training camp prior to last season, the number one question posed to Victor Cruz was whether he’d hold out for a better deal (he was set to make $500,000 last season).  He denied it each time, but players always deny it, so it was a breath of fresh air to see a guy stay true to his word.

Not only did Cruz not holdout, but he was able to duplicate the previous year’s production, against a harder schedule and without Hakeem Nicks to spread the defense out for much of the season.  Effectively proving he could be a top flight NFL wide receiver on a consistent basis.  Alas, here’s the downside to his decision not to hold out last year, he now enters the realm of the restricted free agent, allowing the Giants hit him with a 1st round tender and a salary of only about $4.89 million.  For the Giants this is a win-win, they get more time to work out a favorable deal with Victor or if someone makes an offer they can match, or let him walk and receive a 1st round pick in exchange.

Here’s where the idiots all chime in.  “Let him walk, he couldn’t do anything without Nicks to keep defenders honest!”  “He can sign elsewhere, it was all Manning anyway!”  “He wants Fitzgerald money!  I’ll take the first round pick, sure!”  Morons.  Everyone’s just got to relax.  As this is the home of the daily hubris, I’m perfectly comfortable in saying the Victor Cruz will be a Giant next year.  No one has signed a 1st round tendered, RFA since 1993.  The cost is simply too high. Let’s say he does want a Fitzgerald level contract.  Not only would a team have to give the Giants their first round pick, but then also sign him to that kind of money?  Yeah, every GM in the league just can’t wait to get Victor Cruz at that price!  So calm down, if anyone does extend Cruz an offer, I’m nearly certain it will be in a range that the Giants can match.  So either he’s here on his tendered deal, and he and the Giants will continue to negotiate during the summer and into the season; or he will be extended an offer by another team that the Giants should be able to afford (of course, the Giants could choose not to match which would require its own lengthy column, but let’s wait on that one, shall we?).  So everyone’s just got to relax over the Victor Cruz situation, he’s going to be wearing blue next year.

That being said, this is the problem with fans and loyalty.  We can be blindly loyal to our teams, often to a fault.  The nature of the business means that players are changing teams more often than ever.  This has resulted in rivalries that really only exist amongst the fans, since the politics and business of being a professional athlete make it imprudent to burn potential bridges.  So while, the Redskins fan will forever hate the Cowboys, one would be hard pressed to find too many players on those teams who truly feel the same way, since they next contract they’re offered may come from Jerry Jones or Daniel Snyder.  Sure they may say, “I hate the Cowboys,” while hanging up their Skins helmet after practice, but they also say “I just want to win!” While inking a max deal with Jacksonville.  In the end, it’s a business for them, not for us.  This often clouds our perspective.  We chastise the A-Rods of the world for making $250 million, but hardly seem to care about the owners who make 6 times that much, as long as there are no lockouts or strikes and we get our games, then we’re fine.  It’s a vicious double standard, one yours truly has fell victim to in the past.

I once believed I'd never forgive Smith for joining Philadelphia.  I was foolish.

I once believed I’d never forgive Smith for joining Philadelphia. I was foolish.

On the first incarnation of Men Are Typing, I wrote a scathing column when Steve Smith left in free agency to the Eagles.  Not only did he leave, but he went to them.  It could not stand in my opinion.  So I, like many other Giants fans, went on the attack.  I threw words like “traitor,” “greed,” and “soulless mercenary” to describe Smith, all while never considering the alternative.  The Giants simply didn’t want him back, and presented an offer that said as much.  The idea that a grown man would choose a higher paying job over a lower paying one never crossed my mind, because dammit, he signed with the fucking Eagles

There are significant differences to what happened with Smith and what’s happening with Cruz.  Smith was never tendered and coming off an ACL injury, while Cruz has had two outstanding seasons and is tendered.  But the principle of the fans immediately attacking the player and defending the owner’s position remains the same.  There’s an old saying that holds true, “we root for laundry.”  Players come and go for various reasons, both good and bad, but as fans our loyalty never really wavers.  Even when we get angry at certain signings or non-signings, raised ticket prices, later parking lot opening times, whatever; we always return.  That leads to idiotic Giants fans immediately assuming that since Cruz hasn’t agreed to a long-term deal by March 13, 2013, that means he doesn’t want to be a Giant, so get him the fuck out of here.  How dare he not want to play for us!

I fully expect Victor Cruz to be dancing the salsa for the Giants next year and beyond.

I fully expect Victor Cruz to be dancing the salsa for the Giants next year and beyond.

Of course Cruz would rather be a Giant!  He grew up 12 miles from Giants Stadium in Paterson, NJ.  They gave him a chance to live his dream by signing him as an undrafted Free Agent out of UMass, he’s turned into a star under Eli Manning and has won a Super Bowl.  But that doesn’t mean he’s going to dismiss getting what he’s earned and rightly deserves.  As I said, he’s going to be back in East Rutherford one way or another in 2013.  It’s time for us as fans to have a little more foresight and a little more understanding when it comes to issues of free agency, especially in the NFL where nothing is guaranteed.