Victor Cruz could become a tricky problem for Giants

A couple of months ago, we took up the question of whether it would be wise for the New York Giants to try to adjust the contract of wide receiver Victor Cruz, who has four years left on the long-term deal he signed prior to the 2013 season. Cruz's 2015 salary cap number of $8.125 million is the third-highest on the team behind those of quarterback Eli Manning and franchise player Jason Pierre-Paul. His base salary for this year is $6.15 million, but it averages $7.9 million over the following three years. Cruz missed the final 10 games of the 2014 season with a serious knee injury, and the Giants aren't sure he'll be ready to play when the 2015 season starts.

This is a tricky situation, because the Giants love Cruz and have plenty of good reason to love him. Cruz is the wide receiver who signed his big-money free-agent deal then showed up at his next training camp and asked his coaches to help him work on his downfield blocking. He's the undrafted underdog who became a superstar and still treats everyone the way he did when no one knew his name. The Giants would like nothing more than a full return to health and top-level productivity for Cruz, and they would happily pay him accordingly were those things to happen.

However, there are several reasons to wonder whether a happy ending is in the cards for Cruz and the Giants, and whether an unhappy one might be coming sooner rather than later. The emergence of Odell Beckham Jr. as a No. 1 wide receiver in his 2014 rookie season after Cruz went down is one of those reasons. The severity of the injury (torn patellar tendon) from which Cruz is recovering is another. And this recent study by NumberFire, which shows that Cruz's production was already in decline in the two years prior to 2014, offers yet another:

From NumberFire: "Cruz’s 1.01 Reception NEP (Net Expected Points) per target not only led the league in 2011 but was also the fourth-highest mark among 329 individual 70-plus catch seasons since 2000.

"And as amazing as his 2011 season was, we can see an incremental decline in efficiency over the following two seasons.

"Further, in his shortened 2014 season, Cruz posted 23 receptions for a Reception NEP of 25.45. On a per-target basis (of which he had 41), he added just 0.62 Reception NEP, the same as in 2013. Similarly, his Catch Rate (receptions divided by targets) continued to drop and was just 56.10% at the time of his injury.

"Worst of all, though, his Reception Success Rate, the rate at which his receptions added positive NEP to the Giants, plummeted in his short 2014 season, and Cruz's receptions led to positive gains just 73.91% of the time in the Giants' new offense."

Now, the caveat to that final point is that "the Giants' new offense" clearly had yet to find its groove prior to Cruz's injury, and the possibility of Beckham and Cruz on the field together offers legitimate hope for Cruz's production to improve as defenses have someone even more dynamic to worry about. But when you factor in the numbers, the injury, Beckham and the extent to which Cruz's salary is scheduled to jump in 2016 and beyond, it's fair to wonder how much sense it makes for the Giants to roll with him long-term.

The Giants would save only $2.45 million against this year's cap if they cut Cruz now, and they have no reason to do so. Especially because of the injury, it wouldn't save them any real money anyway. But the cap savings jumps to $6.1 million if they cut him next offseason, and when you're dealing with numbers like that, you'd be foolish not to assess your leverage and decide whether to seek a restructure.

A lot could still depend on what happens in 2015 -- whether or when Cruz recovers, how productive he is in the second year of Ben McAdoo's offense, how he meshes with Beckham and Rueben Randle and Shane Vereen and Larry Donnell and Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams, all of the varied weapons available to the Giants on offense. This decision could be an easy one in either direction next February. But the potential is there for it to remain a tricky one, because of a lot of things that weren't yet factors when he signed that contract just two years ago.