I remember feeling very confused when the New York Giants allowed wide receiver Steve Smith to sign with division rivals the Philadelphia Eagles back in 2011.
Smith was, at the time, the most reliable wide receiver Eli Manning had. Sure, he was coming off of an ACL injury, but guys recover from those all the time. There was no reason to believe that Smith, a man responsible for a huge play that helped set up New York's first Super Bowl victory over New England and one who loved playing for the Giants, wouldn't return to the team on a discount.
That, of course, did not happen. Just as shocking as was Smith's move to Philadelphia was the fact that he was never the same player following the injury. He reeled in only 11 catches and a single touchdown in his one year with the Eagles. He then caught 14 passes while with the St. Louis Rams in 2012.
And then it was all over. Smith called it a career this past May. He is 28 years old and retired from the game.
The Giants may be prepping to relive the past when dealing with Hakeem Nicks. Nicks is currently in the midst of the worst contract year I can remember seeing from any proven NFL star. He has, to date, caught 49 of a potential 86 targets. He hasn't once found the end zone in a regular season game.
Just as worrisome as is his lack of production is how Nicks has looked in games. He isn't getting separation as he has in previous years. He is failing to get open in red zone opportunities.
The hands are still there. Nicks proved that this past Sunday when he caught and then held onto a Hail Mary pass at the conclusion of the first half of the game against the San Diego Chargers. Too bad for Nicks and for the Giants, he was at the five-yard line instead of the end zone.
The rest of Nicks' body continues to betray him. He has dealt with injury issues every year of his professional career, and 2013 has been no different. His foot. His groin. His abdomen. The 25-year old is seemingly falling apart.
New York has a big decision to make and soon when it comes to Nicks. Nicks is the type of talent who opens things up for teammates such as Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle merely by being on the field. One also has to consider that Randle has not yet shown that he can be a replacement for Nicks starting next season.
This stat was pointed out in ESPN's Week 15 NFL power rankings piece: “Eli Manning threw his eighth interception of the season targeting Rueben Randle. Of the five QB-WR combinations that have at least six interceptions, only Manning-to-Randle has fewer than 65 completions.”
Nicks, like Smith back in the summer of 2011, likely has one big contract left to sign. There is no reason for the Giants to be the franchise that offers such a deal. More talented and healthier options will be available in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Fans can criticize general manager Jerry Reese for not properly rebuilding the Giants until their faces turn Big Blue. Reese and company not giving Nicks even what most would have thought to have been a reasonable contract last summer looks like a genius move today. New York now has all of the control in these particular negotiations, and that usually, in such scenarios, ends with the player in question leaving the club.
A lot can happen between now and February. Perhaps Nicks will put up monster numbers in the final three games of the season, leading to another team giving him his desired deal. Maybe other franchises will be scared off by his lackluster play and perceived diminishing physical attributes. The Giants were spot on in the way they handled the Smith situation.
I expect the team to again get it right this time around.