EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants today began their offseason roster restructuring by releasing two accomplished offensive players, wide receiver Victor Cruz and running back Rashad Jennings, their leading rusher in 2016.
Both players began their NFL careers humbly, Cruz as an undrafted free agent, Jennings as the 250th overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft. Cruz caught more than 300 regular-season passes and scored 25 touchdowns for the Giants. He also made some of the most memorable plays in recent Giants history, including the longest reception by a Giants receiver in the franchise’s 92 seasons.
“Victor is one of the great stories of the National Football League,” general manager Jerry Reese said. “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.”
Jennings’ career totals include 3,772 rushing yards and 25 scores – the majority of those yards and touchdowns in his three seasons with the Giants.
“Rashad is a pro’s pro, on and off the field,” Reese said. “He came to work every day and did everything we asked him to do, and always worked extra to get better at his craft.”
Cruz had to overcome the long odds faced by all rookie free agents to make the roster when he joined the Giants from UMass in 2010. But he caught everyone’s attention, most notably Tom Coughlin’s, by catching three touchdown passes, one a 64-yarder, in a preseason game vs. the Jets.
Cruz did not have a catch while playing just three games as a rookie. The following season, he had 82 receptions for a Giants’ record 1,536 yards and scored nine touchdowns – including a 99-yarder that is widely credited with catapulting the Giants to and through the playoffs that ended with their victory in Super Bowl XLVI. Cruz caught a touchdown pass in that game as well. That season, Cruz had four touchdown catches of more than 70 yards, the first player to do that since Otis Taylor of the then-AFL Kansas City Chiefs in 1966.
The next year, Cruz made the Pro Bowl after catching 86 passes for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns. In 2013, he had 73 receptions for 998 yards and four scores.
But in his mind, all those achievements pale when compared to his very first accomplishment.
“My favorite Vic moment was impressing coach Coughlin in training camp my rookie year,” he said. “Rookies don’t impress coach Coughlin very often, so the fact that I got that opportunity as a rookie and carried that confidence over for years to come, and won a Super Bowl and (had the) 99-yard touchdown and stuff like that. To be able to turn coach Coughlin’s head and have him say something about me and really appreciate my talent level was a beautiful thing.”
Cruz’s career took an unfortunate turn on Oct. 12, 2014, when he tore his patellar tendon in a game in Philadelphia. He missed the last 10 games of that season, and then the entire 2015 campaign because of a calf injury that required surgery. Cruz returned in 2016 to play in 15 games (missing the Cincinnati game on Nov. 14 with an ankle injury). He finished fourth on the team and third among the wide receivers with 39 receptions for 586 yards and a touchdown.
Cruz increased his career totals to 303 catches for 4,549 yards and 25 touchdowns. Both his receptions and yardage totals are 10th in Giants history, and his 25 touchdowns are 17th.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” Cruz said. “I pretty much grew up in front of the eyes 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.”
Cruz had a close relationship with the team’s medical, equipment, video, community relations, and public relations staffs.
“I’m going to miss the people there,” he said. “Those are the guys that you see day in and day out. Those are the guys that you go to war with and see every day. That’s the family. Those are the people that you look up to, look at, see every day and are most excited about. I definitely miss those guys. I had the chance to see them today before I left the building. I was there for an hour or two just talking to everyone. It’s a good feeling. They’ll always be family. People like that, when you know them that long, they don’t go anywhere.”
Jennings joined the Giants as a free agent in 2014, after four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and one with the Oakland Raiders. In three years, he played in 40 games and rushed for 2,095 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also had 94 receptions for 723 yards and two scores.
“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,” Jennings said. “In the mecca of everything, the relationships I’ve built are priceless. The people, the fans, teammates, ownership, I’ve been blessed to play with the Giants and see that side of the NFL. I have nothing but good things to say.”
Despite missing three early-season games with a thumb injury, Jennings led the Giants in 2016 with 181 rushing attempts for 593 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly to him, the Giants’ 11-5 record enabled him to reach the playoffs for the first time in his eight-year career.
“I’m happy I was able to do that,” Jennings said. “I know under the leadership of coach (Ben) McAdoo that the Giants are going to be there again next year. I already talked to all my running backs. They all called me and thanked me. As soon as the word gets out, probably all of my teammates are going to call me and encourage me. It’s part of the game. It’s unfortunate. After a couple of days, I’m going to be excited for the next leg and opportunity that I get. For the 17th game, that put more of a drive in me. To have a taste for the 17th game and make the playoffs put more of a drive in me to train harder and make sure I’m there again next year, wherever I’m at.”
Although they are moving on from the Giants, both Cruz, 30, and Jennings, who turns 32 next month, believe they can continue to produce in the NFL.
“I think I have a lot of good football left ahead of me,” Cruz said. “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.”
“That’s the least of my worries,” Jennings said. “When (Jerry Reese) called me, I was in the gym. I’m in Florida right now training. I had to step out to talk to him. He said, ‘I didn’t expect anything less for you to be training right now.’ He encouraged me, ‘that’s why you can continue to play. You take care of your body and do the little things.’ I know me and my skillset that I bring to the table. I have more football left in me. I’m a vet, a leader, a motivator, can do anything. I finished the league in the top five in pass protection. I can catch out the backfield, run the ball, play special teams and I want to win the championship. Yes, I have more football left.”