At 4 pm Eastern this past Friday, the New York Giants received the news they'd been hoping for all offseason. Victor Cruz, the salsa dancer who moonlights as New York's slot receiver, had not signed an offer sheet before league deadline. That means that without a long term deal, Cruz will make just $2.879 million in 2013.
The Giants and Cruz may reach a multi-year agreement, but it won't be for nearly as much as Cruz's camp hoped for. That's because the NFL marketplace has drawn a distinction amongst receivers.
Cruz is a slot receiver, spending the majority of his snaps lined up between the offensive tackle and outside receiver. While Cruz had been used on the outside more in the past, the Giants feel his future is in the slot. More importantly, they want to pay him that way.
The 2013 offseason established a clear delineation between outside receivers and slot receivers. Those who line up on the outside and open up the middle of the field are getting paid handsomely; those who do their work from the slot haven't. Mike Wallace, a free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers with a career yards per reception average of 17.2, garnered a 5-year, $60 million contract from the Miami Dolphins.
On the other side is Wes Welker, the model for slot receivers in today's NFL. No receiver in NFL history has more receptions over a six-year span than Welker. Yet, the Denver Broncos will only pay him $12 million over the next two seasons. Welker is five years older than Wallace, but that alone doesn't account for the $48 million difference in contract value. Rather, it's the perception that slot receivers aren't valuable enough to warrant large investments.
It may not seem like it now, but this is a huge development for the Green Bay Packers. They don't have a horse in this race, but the issue will rear its head two years from now.
In 2012, Randall Cobb emerged as the go-to receiver in the Green Bay offense. No Packer had more targets, receptions, or yards than Cobb, who also demolished the team record for total yards from scrimmage. Cobb is entering the third year of his rookie deal which takes him through 2014. With Greg Jennings now departed for the Minnesota Vikings and James Jones a potential loss a year from now, Cobb's usage and production should continue to grow. Accordingly, the Packers will need to sign Cobb to a long term extension.
But how much will that extension cost? Cobb will enter free agency at 24 and presumably with an impressive resume. Cobb finished just 46 yards short of his first 1,000 yard season in 2012. As long as he stays healthy, Cobb will exceed that mark and then some this year. He also has an outside shot at 100 receptions, a feat no Green Bay receiver has accomplished since Robert Brooks' 102 catches in 1995. Such production would suggest Cobb is in line for big payday. Unfortunately for Cobb, he's a slot receiver in an age when teams devalue the position.
This is where Victor Cruz comes in. At a similar age with production comparable to what Cobb projects to have two years from now, Cruz's price will set the Cobb's market. It's been reported that Cruz turned down a $7 million per year offer from New York. The team will wait him out, so an exact figure is still some time away.
And that's the right move for the Giants. The market is currently set by Welker's $6 million per year deal. Cruz is younger, but hasn't been more productive. Even if Cruz can finagle an addition million per season, it's great news for the Packers. Cobb is going to enter free agency younger and with more leverage than Cruz. A small deal for Cruz combined with Welker's meager salary means Green Bay shouldn't have to shell out too much for Cobb in 2015. Granted, a lot can change between now and then. Perhaps Golden Tate will have a monster year and the Seattle Seahawks or another team will pay him like a premier receiver. That's very unlikely, however, and the Packers should roughly know Cobb's price once Cruz signs an extension.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JBHirschhorn