It has been a remarkable, hard-to-believe, storybook ride for Victor Cruz and the Giants since he burst onto the scene seven years ago. And no, it wasn't exactly a happy ending when he and running back Rashad Jennings were released by the Giants on Monday.
But most of the memories are happy. And, as Cruz said, those can never be taken away.
"It's been an amazing journey," Cruz said in a release from the Giants. "I pretty much grew up in front 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."
The moments were mostly remarkable, but the sad ending for the 30-year-old Cruz wasn't unexpected. In the end, after his career was derailed by injuries for nearly two full seasons, the numbers got him. His age and his production last season (39 catches, 586 yards, one touchdown) didn't match the $7.5 million he was owed in salaries and bonuses in 2017 or his salary cap number of $9.4 million.
The same numbers game caught Jennings, who'll be 32 in March and rushed for only 593 yards this past season. He was only due $2.5 million in salary and bonuses and carried a cap number of just over $3 million, but the Giants are ready to turn his job over to 22-year-old Paul Perkins.
By cutting Cruz and Jennings, the Giants gave themselves an additional $10 million in cap room to work with when the free-agent signing period opens in March. They are expected to have about $35 million in cap room to spend, depending on where the NFL salary cap is set.
Cruz had been hoping the Giants would at least offer a pay cut, maybe even one similar to the massive, $6.6 million cut he took last offseason, so he could stay for one more year. But a team source said the Giants are hoping to replace him with a younger and likely taller receiver who is more suited to play on the outside.
That makes sense, but it didn't make it any easier - even for the decision-makers letting Cruz go.
"Victor is one of the great stories of the National Football League," GM Jerry Reese said. "He came in here and earned everything that he's gotten. It has been amazing to se ehim 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, who said "I think I have a lot of good football left ahead of me," first burst onto the scene as an unheralded, undrafted rookie out of UMass in 2010 where he began to catch Tom Coughlin's eye in practice and then famously dazzled in a preseason game against the Jets. After spending most of his rookie year on injured reserve, he broke into the league with back-to-back, 1,000-yard seasons, including an incredible, 82-catch, 1,536-yard, nine-touchdown debut in 2011 that established him as one of the best slot receivers in the league.
That production, the fact that the Giants won the Super Bowl that year, and his salsa-dancing touchdown celebration were part of what made him a big favorite with his teammates, coaches, members of the front office, and especially Giants fans.
Jennings' departure won't be mourned as much, though he was popular and a leader inside the Giants locker room and was one of the hardest workers on the team. Reese hailed him as "a pro's pro, on and off the field."
In his three, injury-plagued seasons with the Giants, though, he rushed for a total of only 2,095 yards and caught 94 passes for another 723 more. Perkins will surely head into next season as the Giants' starting running back, though the team may bring in another running back to share the workload with him, either through free agency or the draft.
"It's an honor to play here, playing for a team that has so much history, a team that falls under great leadership and high character, in the mecca of everything," Jennings said. "I have nothing but good things to say."
Cruz posted on Instagram after news of his release broke...