The return after almost two full seasons on the sideline wasn’t what Victor Cruz anticipated. He finished with 39 catches for 586 yards and one touchdown, which came in the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
There were games when the ball wasn’t even thrown in Cruz’s direction. There were games when he was merely an afterthought. There were afternoons when he ran 40-plus routes and his only opportunity resulted in a big play downfield. It was up, down and filled with inconsistent production.
There still were positives to take from the season. The comeback after missing almost two years with a torn patellar tendon and then a calf problem was inspiring. A torn patellar tendon has ruined many a career. Cruz at least looked the part of an NFL player when the ball was thrown in his direction.
That is an accomplishment. There are two injuries that players are scared of these days, according to Odell Beckham Jr. They are a torn patellar tendon and a ruptured Achilles. Cruz had the former, followed by a serious calf injury that robbed him of 2015. Just making it back from the injuries was encouraging for Cruz, and so was playing in 16 games (including playoffs) with only a minor ankle sprain keeping him from appearing in every Giants contest this past season.
“Staying healthy is obviously encouraging,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said after the season.
But this is a business, and Cruz was cut last week. His production and lack of explosion made him expendable with Roger Lewis and Tavarres King, or a potential draft pick or free agent, as his replacement.
Cruz wasn’t an ideal fit on the outside opposite Beckham. After spending most of his career working out of the slot, Cruz was bumped outside to make room for rookie Sterling Shepard. It didn’t maximize his chance to succeed, and contributed to his departure.
Now Cruz is a free agent, a better fit for a team looking for a veteran to play in the slot. Suitors must determine how much he has left in the tank. Cruz says plenty. The other 31 teams will decide.
Free agent file
Position: Wide receiver
Experience: 6 years
Projected contract: 1 year, $2.5 million, $1 million guaranteed
(Note: The projected contract was derived from the average of five league sources surveyed. The panel consists of a front-office executive, salary-cap experts and agents.)
Comparable contracts: Anquan Boldin (Lions)
Boldin signed with the Detroit Lions last offseason for one year and $2.75 million at age 35. He had the potential to earn another $1 million or so with incentives that would have been hard to reach.
Cruz is younger, but his injury history is more extensive. He also has a different skill set with Boldin being a bigger possession receiver.
Stevie Johnson might be more applicable to Cruz because he was going to be 29 when he signed with the San Diego Chargers in 2015 after struggling with some injuries the previous two years. Johnson received a three-year, $10.5 million deal with $3.9 million guaranteed. That deal basically guaranteed him one season and allowed San Diego the option each of the next two years to decide if they wanted to keep Johnson on the roster. It’s the equivalent of a one-year deal with team options.
Market: Cruz’s market will be interesting. Some teams will undoubtedly think there is little to nothing left in the tank. There are likely to be a few (Cruz met with the Carolina Panthers on Monday) that are willing to invest minimally in hopes that he gets stronger in his second year back from injury and thrives in a return to the slot. Some teams that could fit are the Steelers, Titans, Panthers, Ravens and Bills. The Giants have Shepard. They will not be in the hunt.
What he brings: Cruz isn’t the explosive player he once was, or at least it didn’t appear that way this past season. But he was still able to make tough, contested catches downfield and did it in clutch situations. He’s a veteran receiver who is best suited for the slot and could improve physically in his second season back after missing most of the previous two years.
Synopsis: It’s back to square one. Cruz has to prove he still can play at a high level, and he will not be paid at a Pro Bowl level. At 30, he should still have something left to give a team looking for a veteran wide receiver. His best fit is probably as a fourth receiver. The problem with that is that he doesn’t contribute on special teams. That will limit his market.
Chances of a Giants return: 1 percent
The Giants elected to dump Cruz and his hefty salary rather than try to renegotiate his contract after the season. They did so because they weren’t sold on him being able to thrive on the outside opposite Beckham with Shepard in the slot. It would take a near impossible string of events in order for Cruz to return for another season.