Sometimes in life, you have to make the tough decision of saying goodbye to the past in order to fully embrace the future. Sports are no different. And with the New York Giants up against the salary cap ceiling and the team looking to be active in free agency, the Giants made two of those tough choices on Monday afternoon.
The Giants announced that they have cut wide receiver Victor Cruz and running back Rashad Jennings. The salary cap savings will total $10 million, leaving lots of valuable space that the Giants can use this spring. The savings though, do not make the decision to move on from two fan favorites any easier.
Let’s look back at Cruz’s and Jennings’ Giants careers, as well as projecting where Big Blue goes now.
The element that made Cruz and Jennings so likable amongst Giants players, coaches, and fans was their unique underdog stories. Some players come into the league assured a high draft selection and a starting job. That was not the case for Cruz and Jennings.
By now we all know the Victor Cruz story. The Paterson, NJ native and UMass graduate was undrafted, but quickly signed on with the Giants. He lit opposing defenses up in the 2010 preseason, but spent most of his rookie year injured. He became an unlikely hero in 2011, when the presumptive depth wideout took on a starring role. Cruz caught 82 passes for 1,536 yards and 9 touchdowns, easily the best season for a receiver in Giants history at the time. Of course, the Giants won the Super Bowl that year, thanks in no small part to the contributions of Cruz.
But Cruz wasn’t finished. He followed up his success with a Pro Bowl year in 2012 and similar production in 2013. But when a devastating knee injury struck in 2014, followed by a year-long setback with his calf the next season, Cruz looked like he had danced his final salsa.
But of course, the resilient Cruz never gave up. His role was reduced with the Giants in 2016, but he made the team as the third wideout, catching 39 passes for 586 yards and 1 touchdown. The Giants even made the playoffs in 2016, the first time since Cruz’s rookie year.
Making the playoffs in 2016 meant even more to veteran running back Rashad Jennings, though. After 8 seasons in the league, Jennings finally made his first playoff appearance with the Giants this past season.
A graduate of Liberty University, Jennings was drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and mainly contributed on special teams in his first season. Jennings missed his second season due to injury, but as he got more chances to tote the rock, his value increased immensely.
Jennings only started 9 games over his time in Jacksonville, so he left in 2012 for a better opportunity in Oakland. Jennings started 8 games that year and posted the most touchdowns and second-best rushing yardage of his career (733) in his lone year in California.
Seeking a payday, Jennings made his way over to the East Coast, where he started for the Giants for three seasons. Jennings was always a determined rusher, as well as a jack-of-all-trades. He was a good power back, could catch out of the backfield, was a top pass-blocker, and was ultimately a respected veteran leader. His role decreased with the emergence of rookie Paul Perkins, but Jennings’ biggest gift to the Giants could end up being his tutelage of Perkins.
So where do the Giants go from here? While they did free up lots of money with the cuts, that money will most likely be spent on retaining defensive players and adding some balance to the offense in the form of a tight end and a left tackle. Thus, the Giants will have to look internally and at the draft to fill the voids left by Cruz and Jennings.
At wide receiver, the Giants feature a few key young players that will vie for Cruz’s snaps. For one, there’s Robert Lewis Jr., an undrafted player who profiles best as a large red zone target (he scored 2 touchdowns this season). There’s Tavarres King, the forgotten speed demon that came on late this season and flashed in the playoffs. And do not forget about Dwayne Harris, who had 4 touchdowns and over 30 catches for the Giants just two years ago.
Of course, the Giants are set starting Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard at receiver, but playoff teams in the NFL these days need 3 quality wideouts to win championships. The Giants could go to the draft again, but signing a bargain veteran free agent seems to be the most likely course of action.
As for the running back position, the Giants are set with a trio of Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen, and Orleans Darkwa. They could bring back Bobby Rainey for his familiarity and special teams ability, but his miscues at the end of the season were likely too egregious to merit another contract.
Perkins can be the bell-cow, Vereen is ready for a larger role and can catch passes, and Darkwa can do a little of everything. However, the team could use more of a veteran presence or a power back. It is possible that Darkwa can become that much-needed depth rusher, but I expect the Giants to look deep at both the free agent market and the draft in order to create the most efficient training camp competition.
It was painful to say goodbye to Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings. Two trusted veterans that served the Giants ably for years without a complaint will be finding new jobs this spring, but it was a necessary step to continue advancing the Giants’ offense. As younger, cheaper, options emerge, the Giants offense will enter a new chapter this season, a chapter that has the potential to have a fairy tale ending.