Offense Positional Analysis: Wide Receiver

Jim Mancari , Contributor

When healthy, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz form a dynamic duo on the outside as targets for Eli Manning.

Yet that duo is in some jeopardy, with Nicks recovering from injury and Cruz’s contract status up in the air.

But all signs point to the Giants working out a deal with Cruz and Nicks being fully ready to go for the 2013 season.

Recent reports indicated that the Giants may value Nicks more than Cruz, though Nicks still has one year left on his contract.

The Giants could try to work out a long-term extension with Nicks now and maybe use the franchise tag this offseason on Cruz. The team would then negotiate (or choose to part ways) with Cruz next offseason.

Cruz immensely outperformed his rookie contract the past two seasons. He’s due for his big payday and appears reluctant to give out any discounts.

Sure, Cruz has been productive, but it has only been for two seasons. Can these two seasons predict his long-term success to the point of warranting a huge contract?

That’s a major question Jerry Reese and the Giants’ front office will need to answer. If the team uses the franchise tag on Cruz and fails to reach a long-term extension, Big Blue would have to pay him about $10 million anyway.

Since Cruz is a restricted free agent, the Giants can match any offer he’s given. Now, the Giants obviously do not want to lose Cruz, but if a team offers him a ridiculous amount of money that the Giants can’t match, that’s a major concern.

Knowing that the Giants are worrying more about dumping salaries than adding them, maybe a team out there will drive up the price of Cruz. If the Giants are forced to commit all their funds to Cruz, little will be left over to improve other areas of the team, mainly the defense.

It’s a difficult conundrum, but the ideal scenario would be that the Giants and Cruz agree to a multi-year deal now with back-loaded annual salaries. In that way, Cruz would be a Giant, and the team would have some sort of financial flexibility this offseason.

While Cruz is the main story at receiver, the Giants will need other players to step up and catch passes.

Nicks, if healthy, is a major weapon. It’s no wonder why the Giants are interested in discussing a long-term deal with him. However, he needs to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season.

Domenik Hixon is a free agent, and his future really depends on what happens with Cruz. If the Giants re-sign Cruz, Hixon is likely done with Big Blue. But he’s also a cheaper, familiar option if the Giants can’t bring back Cruz.

The Giants would likely only make a one-year commitment to Hixon based on his injury past, so a team offering two or more years may pry him away.

Rueben Randle will likely play an increased role in 2013. He had two very good games last season, but for the most part, he was a non-factor.

If Hixon walks, Randle becomes the team’s third receiver and will be expected to be a contributor each week. His work ethic was called into question last season, but there will be no room for that this year.

He’s only 21 years old and really has a chance to make an impact in this league. Manning can make a player like Randle better, but Randle needs to buy into the philosophy.

Ramses Barden has said he’d like to remain with the Giants, and for the right deal, this would be fine. He had a breakout game in Week 3 against the Panthers last season, but he too was hidden on the depth chart for inconsistent play.

He’s a solid insurance plan behind Nicks, Cruz and Randle, and if an injury were to occur, he could fill in. However, the Giants certainly are not in a position to overpay for an insurance plan.

Jerrel Jernigan is signed for two more years, but he has yet to hit his stride in the league. Depending upon what happens with the other free-agent receivers, he may get his shot at extended playing time. He’s been so inconsistent in his short career as a kick returner, but with David Wilson expected to take over in the backfield, that position opens up.

If all goes according to plan, Nicks and Cruz will be Manning’s top targets, with Randle, Barden and Jernigan thrown into the mix when needed.

Follow Jim Mancari on Twitter @JMMancari.