By Art Stapleton, The Record (Hackensack
---- — Cue the salsa music — Victor Cruz is finally dancing to the bank with the Giant paycheck he has sought.
The Paterson, N.J., native signed a five-year contract extension worth $43 million Monday, one that should keep the record-setting wide receiver with the New York Giants until 2018.
The Giants did not release financial details of the pact, but Cruz will receive $15.6 million guaranteed, a source confirmed. The extension will be added to his existing one-year contract, meaning Cruz will earn $45.879 million over the next six years, an average of $7.6 million per season.
“To be able to be at the top of my position as a slot receiver (and) amongst the best in the league, I think it’s definitely a great deal,” Cruz said in a conference call Monday. “I don’t want to be anywhere else. I don’t want to play anywhere else. Financially my family is set for the rest of my life. That’s all I could ask for. I wasn’t looking at the most amount of money, how much I could get … I just wanted my family to be taken care of and to play in this city for a very long time.”
At 26, Cruz has enjoyed an incredible rise to NFL stardom just miles from his childhood home, becoming one of the most popular players not only with the Giants, but worldwide.
He has never hid a desire to remain with the Giants, with whom he has won a Super Bowl while etching his name in the record books with unequaled production over the past two regular seasons (168 catches for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns).
The undrafted free agent from UMass is the only wide receiver in franchise history to record at least 80 receptions, 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns in a single season – and he has done it twice.
Only Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Denver’s Wes Welker, Atlanta’s Roddy White and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall have gained more yardage than Cruz over the past two seasons.
“We are pleased to have this behind us,” general manager Jerry Reese said. “Now Victor can focus on football. Training camp is approaching quickly (July 26), and we all have a lot of work to do to get back where we want to be.”
Team president and co-owner John Mara expressed optimism throughout lengthy negotiations with Cruz, repeatedly promising that a renewed partnership was a matter of patience and time. Cruz switched representation in March when he left agent Malik Shareeffor Creative Artists Agency’s Tom Condon, considered one of the NFL’s most influential agents.
Cruz spoke publicly about his contract situation Monday for the first time since the morning of Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans five months ago.
“There was never a time where I felt like I wouldn’t be a Giant,” Cruz said. “I just knew it was just a matter of time if I was going to be there for one year or for the next six, and I’ll take the six right now obviously.”
Cruz was already set to make $2.879 million this season after his June 14 decision to sign the one-year restricted free-agent tender, which would have allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent in March.
Now the Giants have put themselves in position to guarantee Eli Manning will have his top two targets under contract for the next two seasons. Hakeem Nicks will be an unrestricted free agent following this season, but the Giants can use the franchise tag on their 2009 first-round pick should they choose for the 2014 season if the two sides are unable to agree on a long-term deal.
“You work 26 years, ups and downs, back and forth, trials and tribulations, everything I went through in high school, college, even in the NFL getting hurt my rookie year,” Cruz said. “You work that hard to get to this one day, this one day to just sign that deal and be set for potentially the rest of your life, and have your family taken care of and feel good about it. … My whole life has been a blessing.”
So after putting pen to paper Monday, closing what has been a remarkable chapter of his life, Cruz did not take long to prioritize what’s next for him and the Giants.
“More championships,” he said. “Now I can just focus on football, focus on my craft and continue to perfect certain things … I’m excited to just continue to win. I’m still young. I feel like I’ve got a couple more championships under my belt that myself and the team can accomplish, so I’m ready to get that started.”