Victor Cruz spent seven seasons with the Giants.
On Monday, he spent his final few hours as a member of the organization saying goodbye to the trainers, equipment managers and other staff members at the team’s facility who had seen him rise from an unknown undrafted rookie to one of the most popular players in franchise history.
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“I’m going to miss the people there,” Cruz said. “They’ll always be family. People like that, when you know them that long, they don’t go anywhere.”
Cruz will, though. He and running back Rashad Jennings were released by the Giants on Monday, a cost-cutting maneuver that will save the team $10 million against the 2017 salary cap.
Cruz was due to earn $6.4 million in base salary in 2017 and $7.4 million in 2018 from the Giants. The team saved $7.5 million against the 2017 salary cap by releasing him. Jennings was due $2.48 million in 2017, and the Giants will save $2.5 million in cap space with that move. The development of Sterling Shepard and Paul Perkins in 2016 also likely played into the decisions.
Cruz suggested in recent interviews that he was willing to discuss a pay cut with the Giants. Ultimately, according to a source, no such offer was made by the team.
Cruz’s legacy will go beyond stats (his 303 catches for 4,549 yards both rank 10th in franchise history and his 25 touchdowns rank 17th). He’ll be remembered more for living out one of the more improbable narratives in team history.
Cruz began as an undrafted free agent in 2010, a kid from nearby Paterson, New Jersey. He became a superstar on a Super Bowl-winning team in 2011 with his trademark touchdown dance, missed nearly two full seasons of football because of knee and calf injuries, then returned to the field in 2016.
“Victor is one of the great stories of the National Football League,” Giants general manager Jerry Reese said while announcing the move on Giants.com. “He came in here and earned everything that he’s gotten. It has been amazing to see him grow from an undrafted free agent to a Pro Bowl player and one of our go-to guys during the Super Bowl XLVI run. He will always be one of the great Giants.”
Cruz, 30, caught 39 passes for 586 yards and a touchdown in 2016, his first season back from a torn patellar tendon two seasons ago and a calf injury in 2015. In the past few weeks, with the knowledge that his contract would be an impediment to his future with the Giants, he said he hoped to remain with the team but that a potential end to his tenure in blue would not mark the end of his NFL career.
He reiterated that Monday.
“I think I have a lot of good football left ahead of me,” Cruz said. “I think there is still a lot of miles left on this body. I’ll definitely be searching and looking for work as the time comes.”
Jennings, who will turn 32 next month, also said he’s not done and will search for work in the league. “I have more football left in me,” he said.
Cruz said the most significant moment of his Giants career was in the summer of 2010 when he was a rookie. After one training camp practice in which many of the team’s top receivers were injured, Tom Coughlin was asked about the status of the group.
“What do we need anybody for?” the coach said. “We’ve got Victor Cruz!”
He added: “I’m serious.”
That was before the breakout three-touchdown preseason game against the Jets, before the salsa was born in Philadelphia, before the 99-yard touchdown reception against the Jets that launched the Giants to a Super Bowl.
“To be able to turn coach Coughlin’s head and have him say something about me and really appreciate my talent level was a beautiful thing,” Cruz said Monday.
One day, perhaps, Cruz will retire as a Giant and be put in the team’s Ring of Honor. But on Monday, he mostly was looking back and not ahead.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” he said. “I pretty much grew up in front of the eyes of this entire organization. The Giants fan base, the community, my hometown, my family. I grew up there. It’s very much a family atmosphere and it’s very much like leaving your family. That’s what it feels like. I did some great things there. There are so many experiences, times and moments that I shared in that building with that team in that jersey.
“Those can’t be replaced or forgotten. I’m happy I have those moments to look back on.”