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Victor Cruz crucial to Giants' success

Around the League will examine one key figure under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season. Next up: The New York Giants

Under Pressure: Victor Cruz

After missing most of his rookie season with a hamstring injury, New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz had a breakout season in 2011. He caught 82 passes for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season and then added 21 receptions for 269 yards and a touchdown during the Giants' title run.

Three issues, however, could potentially stand in his way of repeating last year's performance:

First, Cruz's role in the offense could change with the departure of Mario Manningham in free agency coupled with Hakeem Nicks' broken foot. Instead of playing his natural slot position, Cruz will get a chance to work on the outside. Playing on the edge isn't necessarily more difficult in Kevin Gilbride's offense, but it is a change from what he's accustomed to doing and could take away from the big-play ability he had in 2011.

So far, so good, though, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said Wednesday:

"It took him a while to get going (in 2011). He didn't start the year real well and then all of a sudden, in that Philadelphia (Eagles) game, he made two phenomenal plays for us," Gilbride said. "But truly in the beginning of the year, every play was an adventure. He was either going to be right or awfully wrong but got better and better and better at eliminating the mistakes...That's what's nice about now. It's like he hasn't missed a beat."

Secondly, during his breakout season, Cruz's compelling back story elevated his "Q" rating to the point at which he hired a marketing firm (IMG) to handle all his demands. Cruz already demonstrated restraint and focus by turning down an opportunity to appear on "Dancing With The Stars". Based on his OTA participation and performance, off-field distractions haven't been an issue.

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A third issue is Cruz's contract, which paid him the league minimum ($450,000) in 2011 and will do so again in 2012 ($540,000). The 25-year-old hasn't hidden his desire for a new and much larger contract. He fired his original agent (Abu Toppin) and hired Malik Shareef this offseason.

Cruz repeatedly has said that he won't be a training camp holdout, which could be due to Cruz not having earned enough income from football to pay the daily fines the Giants can levy against him if he did hold out. Another part of the decision to not hold out of camp is Cruz knowing that he's under club control for the next two seasons. Cruz will be a restricted free agent in 2013 and could receive the franchise tag in each of the next two offseasons.

Being one of the most productive and most underpaid players on a Super Bowl team in the largest media market in the world could have been a recipe for disaster this offseason. Thus far, Cruz has navigated around the distractions as adeptly as he did opposing secondaries in 2011. Cruz will need to continue to do so to maintain his production and show the front office and coaching staff that he deserves the new contract he seeks.

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