New York Giants release wide receiver Victor Cruz

Have we seen the last of Victor Cruz and the Giants?

The team announced Monday they have released the former undrafted free agent turned star wideout. NFL Network's Kimberly Jones, citing a source close to the receiver, said Cruz was doing "ok" upon hearing the news.

The development was first reported by The Record.

"Victor is one of the great stories of the National Football League," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said in a statement. "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's departure saves the team nearly $10 million against the salary cap. He was due to make $7.4 million this season.

So ends an era in recent New York Giants history. Cruz stormed onto the scene thanks to a three-touchdown performance against the New York Jets back in the 2010 preseason. A hometown product from Patterson, New Jersey, his close proximity to the Giants' facility added to his status as a local legend. During his first full season in 2011, he caught 82 passes for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns, including a back-breaking 99-yard score against the Jets on Christmas Eve -- a game that effectively ended the Rex Ryan era while simultaneously propelling the Giants to their second Super Bowl title in four years.

Cruz caught four passes for 25 yards and a touchdown in that Super Bowl XLVI win, and had a monstrous, 10-catch, 142-yard performance against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game two weeks prior.

The 30-year-old veteran made an unexpected comeback in 2016 after missing 28 games over the previous two years thanks to a torn patellar tendon and calf injury in back to back years. Normally a death sentence for a speed-oriented wide receiver, Cruz found a way to contribute this season, catching 39 balls for 586 yards and a touchdown.

As Jones noted, the further Cruz gets from his injuries, the closer he will get to becoming a contributor on the field. It would not be surprising to see the Giants bring him back at a more reasonable salary or see Cruz in camp elsewhere. The wideout still believes he has gas left in the tank.

"I think I have a lot of good football left ahead of me," Cruz said in a statement. "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."

Cruz helped power a few years of high-wire offenses designed by former coordinator and longtime Eli Manning coach Kevin Gilbride. Alongside Hakeem Nicks, the Giants posted the fifth-best passing offense in football back in 2011 and were fourth in yards per attempt. Cruz's play in the slot buoyed Manning and helped give him a much-needed second wind in New York.

An undrafted free agent out of UMass, Cruz was one of the few players to be re-signed by the team in the Jerry Reese era. His five-year, $45 million extension signed back in 2013 was a significant move for the notoriously thrifty Giants at the time. Cruz is currently 10th on the franchise's all-time receiving yards list with 4,549 yards and is 17th in touchdowns, with 25.

The New York Giants cut two of their most well-known players on Monday, Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings. Cruz was scheduled to make $7.5 million in salary and bonuses next season in addition to counting for $9.4 million on the salary cap. After hauling in just 39 receptions for 586 and only one touchdown in 15 games, as much as the fan base may love the salsa dance, the return on investment just wasn't there.

Cutting Jennings wasn't as cut-and-dry, but with his limited production cutting him makes sense. The 31-year-old running back was scheduled for a $2.48 million salary that was set to count $3 million on the cap. After Paul Perkins' emergence relegated Jennings to the bench, there was little reason to keep the veteran around heading, especially with his 3.3 yards per rush attempt last season, the second-worst tally of his career.

One of the main reasons why Jennings was able to stay on the field despite his poor production was because he was phenomenal in pass-protection. According to ProFootballFocus, Jennings finished with the third-highest grade among all running backs last season. It's important to note, that Perkins improved throughout the year. One of the biggest, if not the biggest transitions from college to the NFL is pass-protection, so the fact that he got better as the year along bodes well for him next season as he gets more reps throughout the offseason.

When a guy runs like this, you do whatever you can to get him the ball.

Perkins isn't the only young player the Giants are putting a lot of faith into by cutting veterans.

Sterling Shepard will now have an even bigger role moving forward. The second-round pick out of Oklahoma had a great rookie season hauling in 65 passes on 105 targets, scoring eight touchdowns. Playing across from Odell Beckham Jr. certainly has its perks, so he should be able to pad those stats next season considering the boost in snaps and targets he'll likely receive with Cruz gone.

Giants Release Wide Receiver Victor Cruz

Some players are beloved for a pivotal game, memorable play or signature celebration. Victor Cruz, cut by the Giants on Monday after seven seasons, will be remembered by Giants fans for the confluence of all three on Dec. 24, 2011.

The Giants were a .500 team that Christmas Eve desperate to keep its scant playoff hopes alive. They were trailing the Jets in the second quarter when Cruz caught a short, routine pass near his goal line. Deftly eluding two defenders close enough to touch him, Cruz dashed down the sideline — leaping over another tackler on his way — to complete a spectacular 99-yard touchdown reception.

And then Cruz danced the salsa in the end zone.

The score catapulted the Giants to a 29-14 rout of the Jets, the first of six consecutive victories, including a 21-17 upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.

But no moment crystallized the unforgettable, storybook Giants career of Cruz, a castoff free agent raised 10 miles from the Giants’ stadium, like the 99-yard Christmas Eve touchdown. It helped Cruz become one of the franchise’s most charismatic and identifiable players, renowned for his rhythmic touchdown dances and rags-to-riches story.

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“No doubt, that will be my defining moment forever,” Cruz said in an interview four years ago. “Long after I’m retired and I come back on old-timers’ day, they’ll show that on the scoreboard video screen. There will be dads in the stands pointing at the screen and telling their kids about the 99-yard touchdown.”

And, if that scene plays out in the future, those fans will most likely be serenading him with their familiar tribute to him: “Cruuuuuz.”

Along with Cruz, the Giants also released running back Rashad Jennings, the team’s leading rusher last season — but neither transaction was a surprise. Both moves reflected the declining statistical production of each player and an economic reality that the cuts will save the Giants $10 million against next season’s salary cap. (Cruz’s voided contract is $7.5 million of the total.)

Parting ways with Cruz, 30, and Jennings, 31, also reflects the unflinching determination of the second-year coach, Ben McAdoo, to make his team significantly younger. Quarterback Eli Manning, 36, is now the only player under contract older than 30.

The discarding of Cruz and Jennings is also another step toward bringing a decisive end to the Tom Coughlin era. Few significant contributors to any of Coughlin’s teams remain on the roster — and there may be fewer still when the Giants open training camp this summer.

Cruz missed almost two full seasons in 2014 and 2015 because of injuries. Last year, playing behind Odell Beckham Jr. and the rookie Sterling Shepard, Cruz caught 39 passes for 586 yards. Jennings, who had lost his starting job to the rookie Paul Perkins by the end of the season, rushed for 593 yards, or 270 fewer than in 2015.

Cruz and Jennings, now free agents, said Monday that they expected to continue their N.F.L. careers.

On Monday, the Giants gave Cruz the warmest send-off they could muster. He even toured the team’s office and practice facility.

“I was there for an hour or two just talking to everyone,” Cruz said on the team’s website. “It’s been an amazing journey.”

Jerry Reese, the Giants’ general manager, said of Cruz, “Victor is one of the great stories of the National Football League.”

That may be true, but Cruz’s ascent to pro stardom was altogether unforeseen. He did not have the grades at his high school in Paterson, N.J., to be a top college recruit. He did not enroll at the University of Massachusetts until he raised his grades during a year at a remote Maine prep school. But he stumbled again and was expelled from UMass because of poor grades not once, but twice.

He returned to Paterson.

“I was going to be another inner-city kid working at Wendy’s or some mall,” he said. “I could have been there the rest of my life.”

During this period, his father, Michael Walker, committed suicide. Cruz began taking courses at a local community college before returning to UMass and becoming the leading receiver on a championship team.

But N.F.L. teams were uninspired by his middling dash times and his lack of size (barely 6 feet and 190 pounds). The Giants offered a limited lifeline, but Cruz spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve. Giants coaches, however, were impressed that Cruz came to all the wide receivers’ meetings, even though he could not play for the season.

Cruz earned a significant role on the 2011 Giants and would end up with 1,536 receiving yards, 82 catches and 9 touchdowns. He caught 21 passes in the team’s four playoff games that season, including a touchdown in the Super Bowl victory over the Patriots.

Two exceptional seasons followed, but in the fourth game of the 2014 season, Cruz ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee. His comeback was delayed another season by a serious calf injury.

His 2016 season began with a rousing, game-winning touchdown grab in the Giants’ opening-game victory at Dallas, but it turned out to be Cruz’s only score of the year. By the close of the season, it was clear that his Giants career was nearing its conclusion.

The height of his celebrity during the 2011 season was illustrated about a month later at the Super Bowl, where Madonna, the halftime performer that year, conceded at a news conference that she knew almost nothing about football.

But before she left, she stood at the front of the stage and did a version of Cruz’s salsa dance.

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