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Victor Cruz's new contract puts pressure on Hakeem Nicks to prove his worth

Can the Giants afford to keep Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks? Can the Giants afford to keep Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks? (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

One wide receiver down, one to go. But will that second wide receiver stay?

The New York Giants reportedly are on the verge of giving Victor Cruz the substantial, long-term deal that he has been after for some time now. The 26-year-old Cruz recently signed his restricted free-agent tender, a one-year, $2.879 million deal. He's been asking for much more than that -- somewhere in the neighborhood of $9 million per season.

And with the Giants apparently ready to meet those demands, the team may not have the resources to keep Cruz's wingman at wide receiver, Hakeem Nicks, beyond 2013.

Nicks has just one season left on his own contract, at $2.725 million. According to recent reports, he and the Giants have not been in the same ballpark on a contract extension, with Nicks already laying the groundwork for a departure via free agency next offseason.

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The Giants have said all along that they'd like to retain both Cruz and Nicks for the foreseeable future, but their choice to fork over a truckload of money to the former could push the latter out the door. That's far from a new revelation, as this little Cruz-Nicks tap dance has been a reality for the Giants for months now. The franchise has made its initial choice between the two, though, putting the pressure squarely on Nicks headed into 2013.

Cruz has outperformed Nicks over the past two seasons, averaging 84 catches, 1,314 yards and 9.5 touchdowns to Nicks' 64.5-catch, 942-yard and five-TD pace over that same stretch. Yet, Nicks is expected to ask for a contract that goes above and beyond whatever Cruz makes.

If the Giants do not turn around and rework Nicks' contract immediately (and there's no reason to believe they will), Nicks' hope for a bank-breaking deal relies on his performance this coming season. Assuming he does get a new contract signed this summer, Cruz will enter the 2013 season with security unlike any he's had previously in his career; Nicks will not be so lucky.

So, the pressure will fall on Nicks if he wants to be paid as an elite receiver. His ability to do that may coincide with his health -- Nicks has yet to play a full 16-game slate in his NFL career, and he missed three games last season. Cruz, by comparison, has suited up for all 32 Giants games over the past two years.

The NFL salary cap may prevent the Giants from paying two receivers contracts in excess of $9 million. If Nicks endures another season full of bumps and bruises, he'll make the Giants' decision easy.

Further hamstringing the Giants' ability to re-sign both Cruz and Nicks is that the franchise already has significant money committed elsewhere for 2014 and beyond. QB Eli Manning may restructure his deal at some point, but he's currently slated to count more than $20 million against the cap next season, per OvertheCap.com. Antrel Rolle, Chris Snee, David Baas, William Beatty and Mathias Kiwanuka all will deliver $7 million-plus hits, too, as things stand now. Add in whatever the final numbers are on Cruz's deal, and New York's wiggle room further diminishes.

The Giants could consider the franchise tag for Nicks, but that price tag was $10.5 million in 2013 and may rise in '14. In other words, it might not be a realistic option if New York is hoping to minimize its costs in relation to Nicks.

The long and short of it is this: The Giants have made Cruz priority No. 1 at wide receiver, thereby challenging Nicks to prove his worth, be it in New York or elsewhere.
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