Two season-ending surgeries in two years, and the sad reality for Victor Cruz is all too apparent: He may have danced his last salsa for the Giants.
He came to the Giants as an unknown, undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts in 2010 and turned into a sensational story, developing into a Pro Bowl player who helped catapult the Giants to their fourth Super Bowl title in his second season.
But after a devastating knee injury last year and a series of calf injuries, the latest of which occurred during what should have been some routine drills, he is in the uncomfortable position of having to overcome perhaps even more doubts than the ones he fought through as a rookie.
It's still very early in the process and a lot has to be determined about how the surgery will impact his ability to play, but Cruz now faces the harsh reality of the NFL.
That means there's zero chance the Giants will bring him back on his current contract, which was to pay him $7.9 million in base salary next season and carries a whopping $9.9-million salary-cap hit. The Giants could save $6.1 million by releasing him.
Cruz made the announcement about his surgery on social media, although his timing was off-putting. Rather than wait until his teammates had a chance to get over a devastating 27-26 loss to the Patriots a day earlier, he chose the morning after to let his fans know about the surgery. The announcement rankled some people within the Giants' organization, who thought he could have picked a better time. He could have. And should have. But you can sympathize with him, because this has been a difficult ordeal.
He made what seemed to be a remarkable recovery from surgery to repair the patellar tendon in his right knee. He was running plays in practice that reminded you of his best days, when he could cut on a dime and make the kind of catches that turned him into one of the NFL's top receivers. The prospect of being paired with Odell Beckham Jr. offered immense possibilities, and there was boundless optimism about the Giants' offense over the summer.
Then came what appeared to be an innocuous strain of his left calf, with Cruz and the Giants assuring us that he soon would be back and that this was only a temporary setback in his return. But he hasn't played since, and neither coach Tom Coughlin nor general manager Jerry Reese offered any assurances about what the future might hold.
With the Giants moving on by making Beckham their showcase receiver and offering a larger workload to recently signed free agent Dwayne Harris, as well as a regular dose of Rueben Randle, Cruz will be hard-pressed to find a place on this team when he's ready to play.
And with a gigantic salary- cap number hanging over his head, Cruz understands that his run with the Giants could amount to more of a shooting star than a careerlong run.
"It's unfortunate,'' Eli Manning said, "and I know it is tough on him and he worked so hard to come back from the knee injury last year and was excited coming out and playing and was looking good in training camp and to have this nagging calf injury, so I know it has been tough on him. It seemed like there was a deal that it would be a few weeks and come back -- just a calf strain -- but I guess he just kept reinjuring it, and I just feel for him more than anything just because I know he wants to be out there playing and I know it has been frustrating to have this nagging him and now getting to this point.''
For the Giants, it is all about the next man up. The stone-cold reality of life in the NFL means you reflect only briefly on those left behind, because there are games to be played with those who can make it to the field.
Eli Manning made that clear when he mentioned in the next breath that the receivers who still are with him are up for the task ahead. "I think our receivers have been doing some good things,'' he said. "Dwayne has been playing well in the slot, so we have to worry about the guys we have here and playing at a higher level to win games.''
Cruz no longer is with that group and might not get the chance again. The receiver who once dazzled Giants fans with his play and his post-touchdown salsa dances now faces a hard road back. There's no guarantee the kid who came from out of nowhere will get the chance to make it back with the team that gave him his first chance.