Restricted free agency in the NFL is usually not free agency at all, with teams unwilling to surrender draft picks or do another team's negotiating for players. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com think, however, that Victor Cruz of the New York Giants could change all that.
The New York Giants slot receiver will almost certainly receive a first-round tender if the team can't work out a long-term deal with him. And from what I hear, there is already a ton of interest and plenty of teams just waiting for their opening. Yes, it's tough to gauge a market on slot guys like Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and Cruz -- especially in systems that so clearly benefit them. But there is enough interest in Cruz to make me think this could be the year someone bites on an RFA. And if no one takes the plunge on Cruz? Then it may be time to wonder how effective this system really is.
Could the Giants really face a serious challenge to retain Cruz if they can't get his name on a long-term deal in the next few days?
Let's look at some teams -- purely from my own vantage point -- who might make a run at Cruz.
1. San Francisco 49ers -- They are saying goodbye to Randy Moss and, once compensatory picks are doled out, will have 15 picks. If they don't use a No. 1 pick in a trade for Darrelle Revis, do you really think they wouldn't at least consider using one on Cruz, who is better than any receiver they have and would make them a clear favorite to return to the Super Bowl in 2014?
2. Baltimore Ravens -- Yes, the Super Bowl champs. They have Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, but Boldin isn't getting any younger. Who would you rather spend a No. 1 pick on Victor Cruz or Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.
3. New England Patriots -- Just because they are the Patriots. They tweaked the Giants a year ago by snagging tight end Jake Ballard. Sure, with Wes Welker there this doesn't seem obvious. It is the Patriots, though, and you can't put it past them to try this.
4. Denver Broncos -- Face it, the Broncos are all in to win now with Peyton Manning, and their window is not going to last much longer. What's better for Denver, a No. 1 pick near the bottom of the first round (28th), or giving Manning a weapon like Cruz to throw the ball to?
5. Seattle Seahawks -- The Seahawks and 49ers are set up to do battle in the NFC West for years to come. Cruz is a bigger difference-maker than anyone Seattle is likely to draft at No. 25. Why wouldn't they make a run at adding Cruz as a weapon for Russell Wilson?