Disregarded as a high-school player, spurned by his college team twice and unwanted in the NFL draft just three years ago, Victor Cruz, the charismatic, salsa-dancing New York Giants wide receiver, continued his improbable career ascent Monday when he signed a five-year, $43 million contract extension that will tie him to the team until at least the 2018 season.
The news of the contract, after months of civil but unproductive negotiations, quelled the anxiety of Giants fans, a group that has made the homegrown Cruz perhaps the team’s most popular player. It was also a relief to the team’s centerpiece performer, quarterback Eli Manning, who relies on Cruz’s dependability on third downs and in the biggest games. And with Giants training camp about two weeks away, it will soothe New York area athletic apparel merchants whose revenue has swelled with the sales of many thousands of $100 Cruz jerseys.
“It was important for me to stay a Giant,” Cruz said in a conference call. “They were the ones who had faith in me from the beginning. Now I can focus on my craft and winning a couple more championships. My whole life has been a blessing. I’ve come a long way.”
The 26-year-old Cruz, who as recently as 2007 was working as a clerk at a mall in his native New Jersey, will receive $15.6 million in guaranteed money from his new contract, according to people with knowledge of the deal who spoke on the condition of anonymity because terms of the contract were not announced. Cruz is set to be paid $2.879 million this season, with the $43 million extension beginning next season.
Cruz, who was a restricted free agent, called the agreement “tremendous,” even though it did not earn him an annual average salary in the range of the best-paid receivers in the league. His extension, with an average of $8.6 million, is top dollar for a No. 2 receiver.
“It wasn’t about being the highest paid,” said Cruz, who becomes the highest paid receiver in Giants
history. “It was about comfort and security. It was about taking care of my family. It was important for me to stay in the area so I can be a role model for my community and all the people who look up to me. There’s a lot I can do in that way.
“All those things played into my decision.”
After the 2012 season ended, Cruz’s initial contract request was about $10 million a year. The Giants’ counteroffer was closer to $6.5 million. The two sides bargained throughout the winter and in recent weeks were described as close to an agreement. Asked why he had signed on Monday, Cruz answered, “I was done with the back and forth.”
Cruz said he would now turn his attention to persuading the Giants’ chief down-the-field receiving threat, the former first-round draft pick Hakeem Nicks, to consider a long-term contract with the Giants. Nicks will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season unless he agrees to an extension.
“I want to see if I can get him to play with me for the long haul,” Cruz said.
As a free agent out of the University of Massachusetts, Cruz was signed after an open tryout at Giants Stadium in 2010, but he missed the season because of a hamstring injury. In the two years since, Cruz has been durable and proficient, catching 168 passes for 2,628 yards without missing a game. His 19 touchdowns have become signature moments at Giants games, accompanied as they usually are by a salsa routine in the end zone.
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