The calls weren’t easy ones to make, but the New York Giants did the right thing for the upcoming season, releasing veteran wide receiver Victor Cruz and running back Rashad Jennings on Monday. Both were fan favorites, both bled Giants blue, but truthfully - both had to step aside in this ruthless business.
It is the only way forward for a team that, yes, made the playoffs last year but certainly still has some rebuilding left to do. That it came at the expense of a legend in Cruz is difficult to swallow, but the sentimentality of a fan favorite can’t get in the way of the future.
This is especially true for Cruz, the undrafted rookie agent from UMass, a player who grew up in the shadows of the Meadowlands to eventually play for his hometown team. He became intertwined with the Giants' Super Bowl run in 2011, his second year in the league. A 99-yard touchdown grab in Week 16 where he embarrassed Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie, then of the Jets, was a poignant moment in that magical season.
Now, Cruz is left to take that salsa dance in the end zone and ride it into the shadows. His career may not be over but barring a significant pay cut, his Giants legacy is now officially written. It might well get him in the ‘Ring of Honor’ someday.
What it won’t get him is an eighth with the Giants.
Between them, Cruz and Jennings had 110 appearances for the franchise and while their individual legacies are worthy of respect, the Giants had to move on. Neither player was in their prime anymore, and the cap savings - now north of $10 million, will help the Giants in a year where they need to address issues on the offensive line as well as possibly re-signing Odell Beckham Jr.. The NFL is tough, and there is no room to let legends ride out a final season to say goodbye.
In a world where general managers ask, “What have you done for me lately?” even a former Pro Bowl wide receiver such as Cruz finds himself on the cutting room floor. Injuries have decimated that burst, the wiggle and elusiveness that marked the early years of his career. While last season wasn’t a bad year for Cruz, he was a shell of the star who dominated New York with his rags to riches story.
It isn’t to say that Cruz wasn’t productive, just that the Giants' youth movement at wide receiver certainly foreshadowed that 2016 would be his swan song in Giants blue.
In a way, it isn’t fair. A prima donna like Beckham will surely get a max contract at the expense of Cruz, the consummate professional and teammate.
Now with cap flexibility, the Giants are going to be able to address their woeful offensive line and keep a player like Beckham on board for the long-term. In a career built on overachievement, on giving his all for the Giants franchise, this is perhaps Cruz’s final sacrifice for the betterment of the franchise.