Wide receiver Victor Cruz is a New York Giants legend and icon, but the time has come for the Giants and Cruz to part ways.
Wide receiver Victor Cruz gave all he could to the New York Giants. Truth be told, his story should serve as inspiration for any young individual chasing a dream he or she believes is out of reach. Cruz proved doubters wrong multiple times over the years, and he should be welcomed back to MetLife Stadium whenever the Giants honor the Super Bowl XLVI squad that defeated the New England Patriots.
The Giants took a flier on Cruz after he went undrafted in 2010, and he became a preseason hero when he torched the New York Jets for three scores during an August exhibition contest. A hamstring injury ended his season before he could make any impact in meaningful games, however, and he became somewhat of a forgotten figure.
Cruz received a second chance the following year after the Giants lost fan-favorite Domenik Hixon to injury, and the young man from Patterson, NJ didn’t disappoint. He caught 82 passes, he performed nine salsa dances for every touchdown he scored and he quickly became one of the faces of the franchise who had his name yelled by adoring Big Blue fans each time he caught a pass at home or on the road.
It seemed the sky was the limit for Cruz back in Jan. 2012. The explosive playmaker who seemingly could take the ball to the house from anywhere on the field, such as when he scored a 99-yard touchdown versus the Jets on Christmas Eve 2011, caught 10 passes for 142 yards in the first half of the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, and he found the end zone in New York’s Super Bowl win over the Patriots.
A star was born, but that star sadly lost much of its luster in October 2014 during a Sunday Night Football game involving the Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. Cruz suffered a serious knee injury in the corner of the end zone during that contest, and he was unable to hide his pain and sorrow as medical staff carted him into the tunnel. He missed the rest of that campaign and all of the 2015 season.
To his credit, Cruz did everything necessary to save his career with the Giants. He put in work behind the scenes when fans weren’t watching in an attempt to return to form, and he also restructured his contract to give the Giants salary cap relief. Fans hoped the football fates would be kind to Cruz for at least a year and that the veteran would help mentor the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., rookie Sterling Shepard and other young players on the roster.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long to see Cruz wasn’t the player of old. He didn’t get separation as he did during his prime. He seemed to miss a step during the majority of games. Cruz caught 39 of 72 targets, and he was a non-factor during New York’s playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Per Spotrac, Cruz carries a $9.4 million cap hit for the 2017 season. There’s zero chance that contract exists, as is, for much longer. However, those assuming Cruz and the Giants can once again come to terms on a restructured deal should read the writing on the wall. They should also remember the club has already seen this story play out.
Steve Smith became a top-tier wide receiver playing alongside Eli Manning after the Giants lost Plaxico Burress to a self-inflicted gunshot wound in November 2008. Smith caught 107 passes during the 2009 season, but a serious knee injury sidelined him in 2010. Like Cruz, Smith attempted a comeback, but he never again played for the Giants before he retired in the spring of 2013.
Cruz is facing a similar reality four years later. The Giants unofficially replaced Cruz when the team drafted Shepard, and he can no longer provide what the Giants need from the position. Alshon Jeffery, Kenny Britt, Kamar Aiken and Terrelle Pryor (all free agents this offseason) would all better fit the 2017 Giants than Cruz.
Cruz, meanwhile, turned 30 years old last November, and it seems his prime has dwindled away. He should be willing to accept one last contract from a team willing to pay him millions of dollars before he hangs his cleats up for good. Then, when the dust settles, he can return to the Meadowlands a hero who is honored either before a game or during a halftime ceremony.
The Giants cannot afford to get sentimental this offseason. New York began the first Monday of this past January with one of the best records in the NFC and are contenders to make a lengthy playoff run 11 months from now and Manning’s championship window is shrinking. The Giants need a bigger and better option at receiver, and Cruz should go get paid elsewhere.