Over at the Meadowlands, the New York Giants are beginning the voluntary portion of their offseason workout program, and wide receiver Victor Cruz has apparently volunteered to sit this day out. Cruz remains embroiled in a contract negotiation with the Giants, who have publicly expressed frustration over his refusal to accept what they have offered. Barring some dramatic change in one side's stance, Cruz likely will play this year under his restricted free-agent tender and become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. But while there's nothing that compels Cruz to attend today's workouts, his reputation as a good soldier makes it noteworthy that he is not present. Per Art Stapleton:
By not showing up, though, Cruz is likely sending a message with his absence that his contract situation is not as settled as the Giants and their fans would hope. Opposing teams have until Friday to extend an RFA offer sheet to Cruz, although that remains unlikely considering the costly nature of the process would include a lucrative long-term deal and a 2013 first-round pick should the Giants choose not to match.
I don't think Cruz is a real threat to hold out of minicamp, training camp or any portion of the season, but I think he's 100 percent right not to show up today. As Art points, out, he could be sending a message, and if that's the case then he's doing so in a very low-risk way. Cruz isn't rehabbing any kind of injury, and it's not as though he needs to be there establishing some kind of on-field rapport with Eli Manning. He'll lose nothing by sitting out this week if that's what he wants, and if the team sees it as an expression of his dissatisfaction with the contract situation, then that's fine too. Cruz's leverage is the threat of his no longer being part of the team, and forcing the team to go through part of its program without him is a way of illustrating what it would be like to do without him.
And while Cruz has little to gain by showing up for these workouts, he does have something to lose. Should he get hurt during this offseason, he'd lose every shred of leverage and the Giants' standing offer to him would shrivel. Why risk that to any non-required degree?
The central issue in this contract dispute is one of philosophy. The Giants believe Cruz is the best slot receiver in the league and are willing to pay him more than Wes Welker is making with the Broncos. Cruz believes his numbers the past two seasons rank him among the top receivers in the league, period (slot or otherwise), and that he should be paid the way No. 1 receivers are paid. This difference in philosophy likely works out to between $2 million and $4 million per year on a long-term deal, and that's a big gulf. Unless something happens to push the Giants toward Cruz's side (such as an offer sheet from another team, or another monster statistical season) or something happens to get Cruz to reduce his demands (such as a poor season, an injury or a 2014 market correction on wide receiver salaries), there's not likely to be any movement on this for a while. And as long as that's the case, Cruz is right and smart to stay away from anything the rules don't require him to do.