For the last two years, Victor Cruz has led a storybook existence.
He shot out of nowhere to win a Super Bowl, danced his way into commercials and then proved in 2012 that it wasn't a fluke as he led the team's passing game while making it to the Pro Bowl. As anyone familiar with a storybook knows, however, you need a little drama and conflict at some point to make a truly compelling story.
We might be getting some this offseason. Giants owner John Mara was asked about negotiations with Cruz on a long-term contract that would allow the team to pass on slapping a restricted free agent tender on the wideout. His answer was not what Giants fans would choose to hear as Mara indicated that Cruz is asking for too much money.
"We certainly want him back, but like with any player, there’s a limit to where we’re going to go,” Mara said. “He’s been a terrific player for us, and he’s a fan favorite and does a lot for our franchise, but there is a limit."
Cruz hasn't been shy about saying he thinks he deserves to be paid like one of the best receivers in football, something that won't happen if the team uses the restricted free agent tender on him for the 2013 season. That would pay Cruz a bit less than $3 million unless another team offers him a contract, something that doesn't happen much since the signing team has to fork over a first-round pick in addition to whatever they pay him in terms of salary.
This is all pretty much par for the course, but the bigger issue might be that the Giants are reportedly prioritizing a new deal for Hakeem Nicks ahead of a new deal for Cruz. Nicks has a year left on his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent and the Giants would like to keep that from happening because they feel he's their No. 1 receiver.
Arguing with the Giants' logic is nearly impossible. Cruz has no leverage over the Giants while letting Nicks hang without a contract would wind up impacting almost every other move the team thinks about making since they'll need to always keep space for him in mind when formulating the roster.
It's hard to pay two players at the same spot the salary that comes with that top receiver designation, so reaching a deal with Nicks would both set the ceiling for any Cruz deal while also sending the message that the Giants think they can live without Cruz as long as they have Nicks. Another team is likely to agree with Cruz's take on his own abilities, whether out of scouting or desperation, and then the feel-good story of the last two years may be writing future chapters in a different uniform.
We're a long way off from any need to seriously panic about Cruz's departure, but we've got our first bit of tension in the Cruz story. Now it's just a question of whether it winds up cementing his commitment to the team or foreshadows the end of a short but brilliant Giants run.