As free agency gets going tonight, one player that technically should not be getting contacted by other teams is New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. As a restricted free agent, Cruz through his agent is not allowed to talk to anybody but the Giants during the negotiation period. The Giants have until Tuesday to place a tender on Cruz. If they do not come to terms on a long-term deal by Tuesday, they will likely place a first-round tender on Cruz. This will let them continue negotiating, but it also means Cruz can go out to the market and see what kind of contract offers he can find.
Over the years of restricted free agency, few players have gone to a new team. Some of the more prominent examples of restricted free agents changing teams would include Ricky Manning going from Carolina to Chicago and the Dolphins working out a trade of Wes Welker to the Patriots (that worked out OK for the Patriots). For the most part however, aside from a few rumors (see Danny Amendola last year), restricted free agents stick with their current team.
Could Victor Cruz be an exception? Ian Rapoport indicated he has heard there is a lot of interest in Cruz. He did not have specific teams, so it remains to be seen if that is anything more than the musings of Cruz's agent trying to drum up interest.
Amidst all this chatter, I have a theory about the 49ers. The team will have 15 draft picks, including five in the first three rounds and two in the first 34 picks. The team is in a position to do just about anything they want as they could move up down and sideways thanks to the mess of picks. This also means they have the ability to move picks for current NFL players if they so choose.
As soon as the 49ers made their trade of Alex Smith, rumors quickly began connecting the 49ers to Darrelle Revis and Percy Harvin. They are the two most prominent trade options at this point, and they play positions where the 49ers could use some help. All in all, not too surprising given the situation.
I have said that I don't think the 49ers would give up the picks and potential contract extensions that might be needed for a Revis or Harvin. That has not struck me as the Harbaalke way.
So what would make Victor Cruz different?
Whatever we want to make of the word games Harbaugh played, the 49ers interest in Peyton Manning last year would seem to indicate the team will consider high ticket items in certain situations. With a guy like Manning, if the 49ers were convinced his neck was good to go, they would be bringing in a difference-maker at the quarterback position. And not just a "difference-maker", but a significant difference-maker. A truly special talent.
With a guy like Victor Cruz, you could make the argument that you are getting that kind of special talent. The 49ers have Michael Crabtree, but other than that their wide receivers have been a corps of question marks for several years now. Mario Manningham was solid enough, and Kyle Williams showed some things, but both are coming off significant knee injuries. Pairing Crabtree and Vernon Davis with Cruz gives this team some serious firepower for Colin Kaepernick.
I think we can dispel Harvin fairly easily in the sense that as special as his talent might be, he has not quite put it all together like Cruz. There is upside there, but Harvin reportedly wants closer to Calvin Johnson money. Sorry, that just doesn't cut it.
As for Revis? He is coming off a significant knee injury, and I actually think the 49ers are in a position where they need to add some basic cornerback depth, as opposed to bringing in Revis Island. Revis reportedly wants to be paid as one of the best defensive players in the league. Given all the money already invested in the defense and the current state of the cornerbacks, I just don't see the 49ers making that kind of investment.
Straight cash homie
If the 49ers want Victor Cruz, it would likely cost them a first round pick and a sizable contract. What kind of contract? We have not heard specific numbers, but we can look at some of the deals for wide receivers. The Kansas City Chiefs recently signed Dwayne Bowe to a five year, $56 million extension. This got him just over Vincent Jackson's $55.55 million deal last year. Earlier today, the Miami Dolphins re-signed Brian Hartline to a five year, $30.8 million deal.
If the 49ers were to make an offer to Cruz, the Giants are allowed to match any contract. Right now the Giants have approximately $10 million in cap space, while the 49ers will have a little more than that once the Alex Smith trade is official on Tuesday.
It would seem to me that if the 49ers could figure out a way to work in Cruz, the Giants could probably figure out a way to match the deal. The problem is that it sounds like the Giants have not been willing to go up into Bowe/Jackson money at this point. It is possible they are willing to go there if forced, but for now they have the leverage while Cruz has no contract offers. That could all change in a few days.
Will it happen?
Hell if I know!
But seriously, there are no rumors about anybody being interested, but it just strikes me as something that could make some measure of sense. I imagine the 49ers wouldn't mind picking off a big part of the Giants offensive attack. It is also possible the 49ers could use this as a way to force the Giants to spend big cap space on Cruz. The team has been less than amenable to this in negotiations thus far. Anything to screw the Giants right?
This really comes down to two separate issues. First, is the team willing to give up the draft pick, and second, is the team willing to pay the kind of cash that would dissuade the Giants from matching.
As to the draft pick, it is entirely possible the team's only trade plans involve turning 2013 picks into better 2014 picks, and basically turning into the Patriots in that regard. I would be perfectly fine with that given the cost certainty a team can develop with wholesale options through the draft. The only pick the team sacrificed for a player in the Baalke era was the fifth for Ted Ginn Jr. Of course, Victor Cruz is just a little bit better than Ginn.
As to the money, that is a tough one to figure out. The team has a lot of young talent to lock up, which is the primary reason I am hesitant to think the team makes a legitimate run at Cruz. At the same time, maybe Trent Baalke and Paraag Marathe think they can make the numbers work.
It is nothing more than speculation at this point, but I don't think it is entirely out of the realm of the possible. I am not expecting the 49ers to make this run, but I really would not be shocked if they decided to try and sign Victor Cruz.