EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Even as the deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets with other teams approached, Giants general manager Jerry Reese was making no assumptions about the future of Victor Cruz.
The team’s top pass-catcher of 2012 — still unsigned to a one-year, first-round tender worth $2.879 million — remained absent from the team’s voluntary off-season conditioning program Thursday. Reese had no idea if he’d see the Pro Bowl standout during the program, training camp, or even into the season.
“I don’t assume anything,” Reese said. “When we get ready to play, we’ll have good player. I don’t know if Victor will be on the team or not. If Victor’s not here, we’ll have other receivers. One player doesn’t make your team.”
Cruz caught 86 passes for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Reese sounded more annoyed than ominous while addressing his wide receiver’s contract status during his annual pre-draft press conference at the Timex Performance Center. But the fact remains that if Cruz fails to land an offer sheet by 4 p.m. Friday, his negotiating rights will revert to the Giants. Once that happens, he can either sign the tender and become an unrestricted free agent after the upcoming season, or remain inactive in an attempt to gain a long-term contract.
The Giants reportedly have a long-term offer on the table for approximately $7 million per year, but Cruz is said to be looking more in the $10 million range. If the Giants allow him to leave, they will get a first-round draft choice as compensation.
Cruz was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010. The salsa-dancing University of Massachusetts player has 168 receptions for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns. He made the 2012 Pro Bowl and is considered one of the league’s best slot receivers.
Reese would like to see him working, as Cruz did last week with Eli Manning at the quarterback’s informal passing camp at Duke University. But the general manager admitted that he can only wait until the situation plays out. Reese said the sides have been in contact, but that no agreement is imminent.
“Obviously, Victor’s a big part of what we’ve been doing the past couple of years,” a testy Reese said. “He did a nice job for us. We’ll see where it goes with respect to the contract.
“Look, Victor’s not here. He’s a free agent exercising all his options. We’ll see where it goes.”
Manning would also like his go-to receiver at the complex, but said he’d be surprised if he saw Cruz before he signs a long-term deal.
“I have a feeling I’ll see Victor when the contract’s done,” he said. “That my gut feel, and I could be wrong. If he’s back here earlier, then that will be a bonus. (The long-term deal) is the goal.”
Meanwhile, running back Andre Brown, a restricted free agent who is also unsigned, is participating in the workouts.
“(Cruz) is a free agent,” Reese said. “He doesn’t have a contract, so he’s not here. That’s his choice. Andre Brown chose to be here. Victor chose not to be.”
Manning could use Cruz right now, considering Hakeem Nicks is working his way back from off-season knee surgery and new receiver Louis Murphy is trying to learn a new system. Murphy, a free agent pickup who can stretch the field, could get some of the available Cruz reps once the organized practices start May 22.
Manning also hopes Rueben Randle will step up in his second year to help the downfield game.
Having Cruz working with the group would be preferable, but the quarterback understood the business end, too. He said he’d be willing to move some of his own money around in a restructuring to clear salary cap room for Cruz, but no one has approached him yet.
In the meantime, he and Reese will continue waiting.
“He’s got to do what’s in his best interests,” Manning said. “I won’t prod him to get a deal done.”
NOTES: Guard Chris Snee’s wife Katie, daughter of coach Tom Coughlin, missed running in Monday’s Boston Marathon. Snee said she would have finished around the time the two bombs exploded. “It’s just sad,” said Snee, who met his wife at Boston College. “It’s a shame to have to worry about things like that happening. It’s scary. I looked at the clock and it finished right about when she would have finished.” … Free agent tight end Brandon Myers said former Raiders teammate and former Giants tight end Kevin Boss encouraged him to sign here. “He had nothing but good to say about the organization,” Myers said. … Nicks worked out with Manning at Duke, but the former Tar Heel would have preferred another venue. “I’d rather it had been at Carolina than Duke,” he said.