Victor Cruz was released on Monday by the New York Giants. Where will the G-Men legend wind up next as a free agent?
The New York Giants were part of one of the biggest stories in Week 1 of the 2016 NFL season. After a tumultuous patellar tendon tear in 2014 took him out for the entire 2015 season as well, wide receiver Victor Cruz made his return to the field. Not only did he do that, but he got the hopes up of the G-Men faithful as he caught four passes and a touchdown against the rival Dallas Cowboys.
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Unfortunately for Cruz, the rest of the season didn’t play out quite as much like a storybook as fans had hoped. The trip to the end zone in Week 1 ended up being his only score of the season. What’s more, Cruz only caught 39 passes on the year for 586 yards. With that and the arrival of Sterling Shepard, the writing was on the wall for the receiver’s future in New York.
Now the 30-year-old Cruz will have to look for employment elsewhere in the NFL. That obviously begs the question of which teams could potentially sign the veteran wide receiver still looking to make an impact. Assuming the Giants don’t just bring him back on a cheaper deal, here are five teams that are feasible landing spots for Victor Cruz.
Sep 11, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr (39) takes down New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (80) at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports
5. Dallas Cowboys
Without question, this would be a bit of a slap in the face to the Giants if this were to happen. That being said, the Cowboys could well be in the market for another receiver in free agency and Cruz could fill that void for them.
The Cowboys No. 2 wide receiver from the 2016 season, Terrance Williams, is also slated to hit free agency this offseason. While he’s always show big-play flashes and had his moments throughout his tenure in Dallas, he’s never been a consistent presence for the Cowboys. Not that Cruz would be a consistent presence, but he could be a cheaper option on the open market to fill that No. 2 void opposite of Dez Bryant as Williams is likely to command a larger payday—even if he were to work out a deal to re-sign.
Obviously Cruz’s body of work in the 2016 season might not inspire much confidence. However, there’s a definite reason to think that he could still be a productive receiver in an offense like Dallas’. Not only would he be surrounded with high-caliber talent that would help open up the field for him, but there’s also the chance that he could complete his recovery. After all, you don’t exactly come back at 100 percent from an injury that sidelined you for nearly two full seasons. Thus, the Cowboys could be a candidate to take a flier on the wideout.
Oct 2, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, Sr. (89) reacts after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
4. Baltimore Ravens
Much to the chagrin of NFL fans that love fun football players, Baltimore Ravens receiver Steve Smith Sr. has retired. No longer will he grace us with his catch-phrases, boisterous personality, and general all-around greatness. As sad as that may be for fans, though, it puts the Ravens in an even tougher spot moving forward. Now the Ravens are left with a severely depleted receiving corps and searching for answers this offseason.
Despite being taken with a high draft pick, Baltimore can’t feel that they can rely on Breshad Perriman just yet. What’s more, Mike Wallace still looks like nothing but a deep threat, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone at this point in his career. Making matters worse, Kamar Aiken is set to hit free agency, further widening the hole. Needless to say, they could use any kind of warm body that can catch a football heading into the 2017 season.
The Ravens front office has never been one to shy away from taken proven veteran players, as evidenced by their signing of Smith after his departure from the Carolina Panthers. While the red flags are there when it comes to Cruz because of the injury and lack of production in the 2016 season, the upside and need are certainly there. Subsequently, it shouldn’t come as a shock to see Baltimore in play for the Paterson, NJ native.
Jan 1, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) greets defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) after the Carolina Panthers failed on a two point conversion attempt to tie the game in the second half at Raymond James Stadium. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Carolina Panthers 17-16. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came so close to making the playoffs in their second year with Jameis Winston at quarterback in the 2016 season. Though they fell short, the reasons for optimism are obvious moving forward. With that being said, they still have holes in their roster that they need to fill out. Many of those holes are on the defensive side of the ball, sure. However, the argument is certainly there that the Bucs could stand to add a complementary receiving weapon to their offense.
Many times throughout the 2016 season, it felt like Winston had no one to throw to outside of Mike Evans. Perhaps that’s because Vincent Jackson continued to be a non-factor for a number of reasons, but now even he is gone and there is no one that inspires true confidence behind him on the depth chart. Subsequently, adding another receiver to the offense, particularly one that can simply play a possession role in the offense, could be huge for Tampa’s progression as a whole.
Though the same concerns regarding Cruz don’t change depending on the team that could possibly sign him, he could be of value to the Bucs. At his best, Cruz is exactly what Tampa Bay needs to add to their wide receiver corps. It might be a risk, but it should be one that comes at a low price and could ultimately pay dividends if Cruz is able to prove that he has something left in the tank.
Feb 9, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan pose for a photo during a press conference at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
2. San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Shanahan as the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers should bring plenty of optimism for their offense going forward. For starters, the writing is on the wall that Niners fans won’t have to endure another year of Colin Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert lining up under center. What’s more, there’s a good chance that the 49ers will have either a high-caliber free agent or draft prospect at the position moving forward. That’s promising, but not the cure-all.
Perhaps the biggest next potential issue in the San Francisco offense is simply that whoever is playing quarterback doesn’t have anyone to throw to. Veteran receiver Torrey Smith hasn’t been the productive player he was in Baltimore, though quarterback play likely factors into that. After him comes the likes of Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington on the depth chart. None of that should really make the 49ers sleep any better at night because of that.
Though he’s not going to come in and be a No. 1 wideout right away, the 49ers could do much worse than bringing in Victor Cruz on a cheap contract in free agency. At worst, he’s a veteran presence to help along the young wideouts already on the roster, in addition to a potentially young quarterback. Then there’s the best case scenario where he’s an actual weapon for the 49ers offense next season and helps move the rebuilding process along.
Dec 24, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) walks off the field after throwing an interception in the closing seconds of the Rams’ 22-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
1. Los Angeles Rams
Obviously the Los Angeles Rams hoped they’d found their quarterback of the future when the selected Jared Goff out of Cal with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. However, Goff certainly had his shortcomings, most notably not showing enough in the preseason and in the early part of the year to beat out Case Keenum. That lack of confidence continued as he struggled and went winless after winning the starting job in the City of Angels.
While that may be the case, there is plenty of reason to think that the Rams didn’t do much of anything to help out their huge asset and shiny new toy. Their offensive line was atrocious, an issue that also affected the performance of 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley. More importantly, though, Goff was operating with what amounts to virtually no weapons in his receiving corps. When Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin—the former now a free agent—are the two best options, that’s hugely problematic.
Bringing in Cruz wouldn’t be like signing or drafting a game-changer at the position. However, it would bring the Rams a player at receiver that’s far more reliable than anyone they have. Even if the injury has robbed him of being the player he once was, Cruz still would likely be the best option Goff would have to work with on the current roster. Thus, the Rams would be wise to start helping out their investment at quarterback.