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Judgements: Deals show outside WRs more valued than slot receivers

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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Once I wondered what impact Mike Wallace's deal would have on the future of Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. Now, I think it's the Wes Welker and Danny Amendola contracts that are more relevant.

And neither is encouraging for Cruz.

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Essentially, what they tell you is that the big money in the NFL is not in slot receivers like Cruz; it's in wide receivers like Wallace. He picked up a rich five-year, $60 million deal with the Dolphins that included $30 million in guarantees.

Nice, huh? Now look at Welker. He took a two-year, $12 million offer to move to Denver. Then Amendola followed with a five-year, $31 million deal to New England, with $10 million in guarantees.

"What it tells you," said one agent who should know, "is that the market just spoke to slot receivers, and what it said is that you're secondary to outside guys. Wallace was signed first, right? He was signed to a bigger contract, too, right? So what the league is saying is that we value outside receivers over slot guys."

That's not good for someone like Cruz. He's a restricted free agent the Giants protected with a first-round tender, and it's expected that he stays with the club another season.

But then what? Well, then, I thought the Wallace blueprint would kick in ... namely, because, like Cruz, he was a restricted free agent a year ago, and nobody bid on him. So he waited, played a season with the Steelers and hit the jackpot a year later.

But the agent is right. The league just delivered a message to Cruz. If he's looking for a deal that pays him Mike Wallace money -- $12 million a year -- it's not happening, and not just because the market says it's not; because the Giants will, too. In case you missed it, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks' contract expires after the 2013 season, too, and while team co-owner and president John Mara insists the team wants both back most people expect the Giants retain only one.

And Nicks is the favorite. The reason: Because the Giants would be more willing to commit $10 million to $11 million a year to him than they would to Cruz.

"My guess," said the agent, "is that they're offering something in the neighborhood of $6 to $7 million a year with Cruz, and he wants more. If I were Victor Cruz I'd look around and see that I could make a lot of money in life outside of football in New York for the next 50 years. Plus, with the New York Giants you're playing on a big stage. He should consider that."

2. Don't tell me New England was blind-sided by Welker's exit because it wasn't. The Patriots let him walk because they decided to move on, and there's no better proof than the two-year, $12 million deal Welker gained from Denver. The Patriots in 2011 offered him a fully guaranteed two-year, $16 million deal, and he turned it down. So New England turned the page, and that's not extraordinary. Coach Bill Belichick is as unsentimental as he is consistent when it comes to business decisions, and, with Welker turning 32 this year, he didn't want to invest in an aging slot receiver. He has too many other needs that must be addressed. So he turned to Amendola, and consider that a no-brainer because Danny Amendola is Wes Welker ... only younger.

3. I can understand why Tom Brady wasn't happy with the loss of Welker. Nobody was better converting third-down catches into firsts. In fact, 61 percent of Welker's 118 receptions last season were first downs, putting him sixth among all receivers. I know Brady called Welker "the heart and soul" of the team. I know owner Robert Kraft said he hoped Welker would be "a Patriot for life," too. But I also know New England had a plan and stuck to it. The problem is: That plan keeps putting more and more pressure on Brady to carry the load, and there's only so much one guy can handle.

4. A source I trust told me he believes the Patriots' offer to Welker was comparable to Denver's ... if not basically the same ... but that Welker left because he believed he failed to gain the proper "respect" he thought he deserved from the club. I don't know if it's true, but I have seen it happen before.

5. Consider the Cliff Avril addition another giant step for Seattle. The Seahawks didn't get to the NFC title game because they couldn't pressure Matt Ryan in the playoffs, and they couldn't pressure Matt Ryan because they lost their top pass rusher, Chris Clemons, to a knee injury the week before. That won't happen again. The addition of Avril guarantees it.

6. Another sign the economy is recovering: No more bailouts for Detroit. The Lions not only solidified their secondary by retaining cornerback Chris Houston and adding safety Glover Quin, they finally found a legitimate running back in Reggie Bush. It's not so much Bush's running ability that makes him a great fit. It's his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and create in space. The Lions haven't had a running back like that since Jahvid Best bowed out six games into the 2011 season, and the numbers speak for themselves. With Best they were 5-1; without him, 9-18. "They're going to be the Greatest Show on Turf," ESPN analyst Bill Polian said after the Lions added Bush. "Think Marshall Faulk -- because that's the type of back (Bush) really is." I don't know about that, and I'm not sure Polian does, either. He's the guy who only two days earlier said he wasn't all that high on Bush. Now he's comparing him to a Hall of Famer. I'd say he's somewhere in between, which is a lot better than where Detroit was at the position.

7. Advantage, Ed Reed. With safeties William Moore, Glover Quin and Dashon Goldson off the market, Reed just gained considerable leverage. Once upon a time, Baltimore's free-agent priority was linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, but that didn't work out. So now it's Reed, and the price just went up.

8. Something is missing from this free-agent frenzy, and I just figured it out: Washington. It's just not the same without owner Dan Snyder writing checks, and blame it on those dratted NFL's auditors who put the Redskins in salary-cap jail.

9. There's a cautionary tale in Jacksonville's releases of Aaron Ross and Laurent Robinson. The Jags signed them a year ago as unrestricted free agents, and the moves were cheered. Now both are gone, textbook examples of why the free-agent frenzy is overrated. No wonder new GM Dave Caldwell is sitting this one out.

10. Apparently, Rodger Saffold isn't all that jacked that St. Louis is flirting with left tackle Jake Long, and I can understand: He and Long play the same position. But big deal. If the Rams sign Long, just move Saffold to the right side and tell him to get over it. It's still a team game, and the idea of this team is to do what it can to protect Sam Bradford. Besides, Saffold's contract expires after next season anyway.

11. I like what the Rams are doing. They're making smart free-agent moves and have two first-round draft picks ... for the next two years, no less. People who last season criticized the deal that sent the Rams' first pick (RG3) to Washington for a bounty of draft picks can go to the back of the class. That deal was good for both sides.

12. This is what I like about Arizona's addition of running back Rashard Mendenhall deal: It's a one-year contract worth $2.5 million. That means the Cardinals aren't convinced he's the solution because he's probably not.

13. Here's why the sky isn't falling in Baltimore: Because the Ravens have a slew of draft picks, and few, if any, teams draft better than the Ravens. Look at their Super Bowl XLVII roster: Of the 53 players on it, 36 were either drafted or originally signed by the club.

14. One suggestion, Ray Lewis, now that you're with ESPN: Beware live microphones. Yours truly, Warren Sapp.

15. The Josh Cribbs signing was a strong move for Arizona. When you're in a division with San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis, you're going to need an effective kick returner.

Five things I like

1. Peyton Manning and Wes Welker. If you can't play for Tom Brady, why not team up with another quarterback headed to Canton? Welker will, and pity poor San Diego. The Bolts get to be reminded twice every year that gave Welker his start by cutting him in 2004.

2. The NFC West. Everyone out there is making moves, most of them bold and smart. San Francisco 49ers' co-chairman John York was right: "I guess we won't be hearing about the 'crummy NFC West' anymore."

3. Matt Cassel's availability. With Alex Smith and Chase Daniel in town, Cassel is about to hit the road. If I'm Buffalo, I wait for him to be released, then move in. If nothing else, you have a quality backup who can keep the position warm while Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, someone, anyone, warms up in the bullpen.

4. Arizona's addition of Lorenzo Alexander. This is one of those under-the-radar signings that could make a difference. Alexander is versatile, a solid backup linebacker who could play inside or outside in the Redskins' 3-4 and so good on special teams he was named to the Pro Bowl. Washington had hoped to keep him, and Alexander said he might give the Redskins a hometown discount -- if they could compete with another offer. I guess they couldn't.

5. Atlanta's moves. The Falcons concentrated their efforts on re-signing their own players, and it brought them Tony Gonzalez, William Moore, Garrett Reynolds and Sam Baker. Smart. Someone asked me why the Falcons aren't more active in free agency, and I told him they were; they're just concentrating on the right people -- their own.

Five things I don't

1. Brady without Welker. He just subtracted 72 first-down catches from his game plan.

2. Rex Ryan's future. The Jets' coach is on a one-year leash, and tell me how he possibly competes for a playoff position with the roster he has. It's time to kick-start those Darrelle Revis trade talks, Rex, and start rebuilding from the ground up.

3. Kevin Kolb's future. Now that the Cardinals have quarterback Drew Stanton, a guy who played for Bruce Arians last year, they won't need Kolb -- not with a $13.5 million cap figure and a $2 million roster bonus due Saturday.

4. King Dunlap as the answer in San Diego. Yes, he's a giant, but he also plays stiff. Dunlap was just a guy on a Philadelphia team that desperately needed someone to step in for left tackle Jason Peters. Demetress Bell couldn't do it, and neither could Dunlap. Is he an improvement over Jared Gaither? You'd be an improvement over Jared Gaither. He's bigger than Gaither, too. But don't count on him as anything but a swing tackle best served as a backup.

5. Another Philadelphia mantra. Two years ago it was free-agent addition Vince Young who called his new club "The Dream Team." Now it's free-agent addition Isaac Sopoaga who told reporters that "we're going to shock the world." Yeah, sure, I've heard that one before. Don't these guys ever learn?

Just asking but ...

  Could someone remind me again why Tom Brady saved New England cap space?

  What's happened to Charles Woodson?

  What are the chances Baltimore loses Ed Reed?

  How soon before the next Darrelle Revis trade rumor?

  Why is it taking so long for Green Bay to lock down Steven Jackson?

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