It was always impossible to root against Victor Cruz, right from the very beginning, when he was an NFL nobody in the summer of 2010, an undrafted longshot trying to make the New York Giants. His out-of-nowhere rocket to stardom has been one of the best Giants stories of the last seven years.
It was easy to root for him to succeed, whether he was a budding star or making it all the way back from injuries that ruined two years of his career. He was a great guy, always the pleasant, smiling kid out of Paterson, New Jersey, even as he starred in commercials, hit the fashion shows and traded texts with Jay Z. Even now, it was hard not to hold out hope the Giants would find a way to bring him back for one more season.
But the sports industry is a cold business. Time is undefeated. And despite the current political climate, facts are still facts. While hearts throughout the Giants organization and fan base might have been yearning for Cruz to remain a Giant, the truth is the Giants were right to let him go.
The same goes for running back Rashad Jennings, the other terrific person the Giants released on Monday in the first of their offseason moves. He wasn't around nearly as long as Cruz, nor was he as successful, but like Cruz, he was a locker room leader, an eloquent spokesman and a media "good guy" who was charitable and approachable off the field.
But both players were declining and, as offended as they might be by that assertion, there's really no way around it. Add in the money factor (and in a salary-capped league, maybe nothing is more important) and it was really an easy decision to make.
Take Cruz, whose numbers were far more extreme and whose release might be easiest to defend. He is a 30-year-old best suited for a position (slot receiver) that is geared toward the quick burst and cutting ability of much younger legs. He didn't just slow with age; he had been robbed of a step or two by a two-year absence and surgeries on both his knee and his calf.
It was clear all season that he struggled to find open space on the outside. Sterling Shepard replaced him in the slot, and Cruz ended up with just 39 catches for 586 yards and one touchdown. Scouts who watched him sighed at his inability to consistently get open. He had several big plays, but they were few and far between.
As a third receiver, he was probably more reliable (albeit slower) than rookie Roger Lewis, but in the end he likely wasn't any better than the underused Tavarres King. His $7.5 million salary and cap number of $9.4 million is star money, the remnants of an old five-year, $43 million deal. The Giants cleared $7.5 million by cutting him, which is cap room they need to re-sign other players and perhaps bolster their offensive line.
They probably could have still cut $6 million or so by keeping him around on a pay cut, but the Giants knew they could do better with whatever money they would've had to pay him.
The same was true of Jennings, who will soon be 32 and who totaled just over 2,000 rushing yards in three injury-plagued season with the Giants. His 2016 numbers -- 593 total yards in 13 games, with a 3.3 yards-per-carry average -- showed he wasn't trending upward. He only cost $2.5 million in salary and bonuses, and a $3 million cap number. The saving was minimal and he probably would've taken a pay cut too.
But running back, like slot receiver, is a young man's position where strong, fresh legs are needed. The Giants knew they could do better (they already were with rookie Paul Perkins) whether they wanted to or not.
So yes, it's a sad day, especially for Cruz, one of the most popular Giants of this generation and surely a future resident of the team's Ring of Honor. If this were 30 years ago before free agency and salary caps, he'd be worth keeping around for his leadership, sentimental value and for the occasional thrill he'd provide when he made a big play and broke his famous salsa dance out.
But in today's NFL -- in the sports world in general -- business comes first and decisions made with the heart are almost always bad ones. It hurts to say that for the good of the future of the franchise Cruz and Jennings had to go -- like Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Brandon Jacobs Ahmad Bradshaw and even Phil Simms.
Time marches on and their time here was up. Unfortunately, there's no alternative fact that can change that.