The Green Bay Packers were likely given a gift of sorts when the New York Giants and Victor Cruz agreed to a six-year, $45.879 million contract on Monday.
As one of the game's premier slot receivers, Cruz has now provided one starting point for the eventual negotiations that will take place between the Packers and emerging slot weapon Randall Cobb in 2014. The price tag Cruz finally agreed to is certainly a manageable one when compared to other top receivers in the NFL.
However, any examination of how Cruz's new deal might alter Cobb's extension sometime next year lacks context without first breaking down the money given to Percy Harvin—a fellow slot extraordinaire—by the Seattle Seahawks.
In fact, Cobb's representation will likely look past Cruz's deal and instead focus on Harvin's when any negotiation with the Packers begin.
The Seahawks sent a number of picks to the Minnesota Vikings for Harvin in March, and he quickly signed a six-year, $67 million deal with $25.5 million in guarantees. The contract made Harvin the fifth-highest paid receiver in the NFL in terms of average salary, trailing only Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Wallace and Dwayne Bowe.
Harvin, 25, signed the new deal with just a year remaining on his rookie contract. He was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2013 season had the Seahawks not swung the trade and agreed on a new extension.
After next season, Cobb will enter a similar situation. By the spring of 2015, he'll be eligible for unrestricted free agency—giving the Packers ample urgency to re-sign him before he can hit the open market. Those discussions could very well happen next offseason or during the 2014 campaign, especially if Cobb continues his meteoric rise to NFL stardom.
Cruz's situation this offseason was slightly different.
A restricted free agent who was tendered by the Giants, the 26-year-old Cruz had considerably less leverage to secure a contract on par with Harvin. As is the case in any negotiation, the side with the most leverage came away with the best of the situation. Cruz will now make roughly $7.5 million in average salary (17th among receivers), which is a far cry from Harvin's $11.2 million yearly gain in Seattle.
The Packers may want to use Cruz's deal as their own leverage in discussions with Cobb, but that might be difficult given how similar Harvin and Cobb are as players.
While Cruz has caught over 80 passes in back-to-back seasons with 19 touchdowns, he's a slot receiver only. Harvin and Cobb are both multi-dimensional players capable of impacting the game in a number of ways.
In 2011, his last full season, Harvin caught 87 passes for 967 yards and six touchdowns, while also rushing for 345 yards and returning 16 kicks for 520 yards and a touchdown. Last season, Harvin was putting together an MVP-type season (over 1,300 all-purpose yards in nine games) before injury struck.
Cobb, who turned just 22 last August, became Harvin 2.0 in 2012.
Over 16 games, Cobb caught 80 passes for 954 yards and eight touchdowns. He rushed 10 times for 132 yards and a score. He also produced 292 yards on punt returns and another 964 on kickoffs. Overall, Cobb became just the second player in NFL history to register a season with 80 or more catches, 100 or more rushing yards, 250 or more punt return yards and 900 or more kickoff return yards.
The second-round pick in 2011 seemed to progress each and every week.
As a receiver, Cobb developed into Aaron Rodgers' go-to option in big moments. He caught the football at an elite rate—both from the slot and as a deep receiver—while still handling the majority of the returning duties, in which he ranked in the top 10 of both kick and punt return average. When used as a runner in the Cobra formation, Cobb proved to be a dangerous backfield option.
Apart from Rodgers and Clay Matthews, one could make a solid claim to Cobb being the Packers third most impressive player in 2012. With Greg Jennings now playing in Minnesota and given another year to mature as an all-around player, Cobb figures to continue his rise towards becoming one of the game's next stars at the receiver position.
And if that's the case in 2013, the money will eventually come in by the truckloads for Cobb.
Don't be surprised if his payday is closer to Harvin than Cruz. While it appears the Packers have caught an economic break with Cruz's deal, Harvin's extension in Seattle should rightfully serve as the goal for Cobb's negotiations when the time comes.
Zach Kruse is a 24-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covers prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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