Giants offer first-round tender to free agent Victor Cruz

Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz celebrates after catching

Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz celebrates after catching a pass during the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday. (Dec. 30, 2012) (Credit: AP )

John Mara knows the risks associated with putting a first-round tender on restricted free agent Victor Cruz. It dangles him to the rest of the league, giving 31 other teams an opportunity to make an offer to Cruz and increasing the chances that the popular wide receiver could be playing elsewhere in 2013. But, Mara said, there is an even greater risk in overpaying him on a long-term deal just to make fans happy in the short term.

"You can't make an emotional decision,'' Mara said Monday. "If you let your emotions get in the way, then you end up in the place that we were in in the 1970s. And I'm not going back there.'' (The Giants didn't make the playoffs from 1964-80.)

The question then becomes whether Cruz is coming back here. He reportedly switched agents abruptly this week, ditching Malik Shareef for NFL super agent Tom Condon of CAA, who represented Eli Manning and Mathias Kiwanuka in their Giants extensions. But CAA also represented Steve Smith, the last seemingly irreplaceable Giants wide receiver who got away.

Signing with Condon could either be a sign that Cruz wants to return quickly and accept something close to the Giants' latest offer, or that he's serious about culling offers from around the league. Free agency begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday, which is when teams can begin negotiating with Cruz. He must wait three days before signing anything because of rules on agent switches.

"It's not going to shock me if somebody makes him an offer,'' Mara said.

If that happens, the Giants will have five days to decide whether to match it or accept a first-round pick as compensation.

"Certainly we have the wherewithal to match just about any offer,'' Mara said. "It's just a question of whether we want to do it and what the number is going to be.''

Mara did not disclose how far apart the sides are in negotiating a long-term agreement. "Let's just say if he took our offer, he'd be a very wealthy young man,'' he said.

The first-round tender would give Cruz a 2013 base salary of $2.879 million, more than twice his combined earnings in his first three seasons with the Giants. He'd be able to sign a long-term deal at any point with them, which, Mara said, is the ultimate goal.

"I'll say it again: He's been a great player for us, we'd love to have him back, but you have to place a value on these contracts, and we have,'' he said. "Hopefully, at some point, we'll be able to reach an agreement.''

Browns tendered, too. Mara said the Giants will put second-round tenders on S Stevie Brown and RB Andre Brown, giving each restricted free agent a 2013 salary of $2.023 million. It also eats up nearly all of the space the team had under the cap . . . The Giants formally announced the signing of DT Cullen Jenkins.

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