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John Mara talks Cruz, minority hiring, Pugh and his 'respect the board' philosophy

Giants co-owner John Mara, left, and general manager

Giants co-owner John Mara, left, and general manager Jerry Reese watch rookie minicamp at the Timex Performance Center in East Rutherford, N.J. on May 11, 2012. Credit: Getty

Victor Cruz has yet to sign with the Giants, but John Mara thinks it’s just a matter of time before the two sides agree to a new contract.

“I’m pretty confident we will end up reaching a deal with him,” the Giants’ president and CEO said on NFL Network on Tuesday. “This is not an atypical situation. Player contracts, particularly with star players, can tend to drag on from time to time. I think we will get it done.”

Mara has maintained that position throughout negotiations. While Tom Coughlin said last week that he was getting concerned by Cruz’ absence from offseason workouts – Cruz, a restricted free agent, has not yet signed his first-round tender offer from the team – Mara has urged patience and flashed optimism for most of the offseason.

Mara also gave one more familiar pitch on why Cruz should re-sign with the Giants.

“This is the right place for him to play,” he said. “He is a star in this area, an important part of our team and I think we will eventually get a deal done. It is just a process you have to go through. We are going through it right now. There is communication. It is slow but steady.”

Mara was speaking at the NFL’s Career Development Symposium at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He also spoke to NFL Network on other topics, including the focus of the symposium to prepare more minority applicants for front office and head coaching jobs.

“We are a little bit embarrassed, quite frankly, we went 0-15 in hiring [minority] coaches and general managers last year,” Mara said. “I think it is an opportunity for us, as owners, to meet more qualified candidates and for them to improve their skills in terms of interviewing, understanding what is important to us in the hiring process, and what they need to be cognizant of when they go into the interviews which will inevitably happen next offseason.”

Mara also spoke about first-round draft pick Justin Pugh and fourth-round selection Ryan Nassib.

“What attracted us the most was his versatility,” Mara said of Pugh. “We feel he can play any position on the offensive line. That was one of our goals. We felt we needed to improve ourselves on both sides of the ball at the line. We think he can play right tackle, left tackle, both guard positions and possibly center. He was a high test score guy, graduated in three and a half years, and has a certain amount of toughness and versatility you love to have on your offensive line. All those qualities made him an obvious first round pick for us.”

As for Nassib, Mara all but declared him the heir apparent to Eli Manning.

“It’s been a while since we have drafted a quarterback,” Mara said. “We’ve been very, very fortunate that Eli has been healthy for so long, has not missed a snap in I don’t know how long, but you have to get ready to groom somebody just in case. The guy was a quality player in college. We think he has what it takes to be a quality player in the NFL. To me, it was an obvious choice for us. He was so high on our board that we expected him to be gone on the first or second day, and we were shocked that he was still there on the third day.”

As for that board, Mara said it has been the key to the Giants’ success.

“We came into the third day of the draft, and he’s sitting on top of our board, by far and away the highest graded player we had left,” Mara said. “So I talked to Jerry (Reese) about it, and Tom Coughlin, and we agreed that you have to respect your board. Your scouts and your personnel people put so much time putting that together. If you just continue to take the highest player on your board, in the long run you’re going to be better off as an organization.”

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