The offseason is young but the Giants are already shaking things up. Victor Cruz, salsa king of East Rutherford, was released on Monday. So was starting running back Rashad Jennings. It was also announced that impending free agent Larry Donnell will not be re-signed. Combined, these moves will save the Giants an estimated $10 million in cap space.
Monday’s roster purge comes on the heels of New York’s first playoff appearance since 2011. Usually, the end of a five-year playoff drought would be a cause for celebration. But after losing their playoff opener in humiliating fashion—Green Bay trounced them 38-13—it’s clear the Giants still have a long way to go.
Let’s start with Cruz. His departure was widely expected after a lackluster year that included 39 catches for 586 yards and one touchdown. That touchdown, the last of his seven-year tenure in New York, came in the Giants’ season opening win over Dallas. Things were looking up for Cruz at that point, but his good fortune in Week 1 proved to be a mirage. Cruz disappeared late in the season, snagging just 15 balls for 255 yards over his last eight games. Over half of those grabs came in Week 16 when Cruz surprisingly broke out for eight catches and 84 yards in a loss to Philadelphia.
The reality is, Cruz’s career has been running on fumes for a few years now. Before last year, injuries had limited Cruz to six games in his previous two seasons. The injury he suffered in 2014—a torn patellar tendon—was particularly devastating. Cruz only sat out one game in 2016, but it was clear he wasn’t the same player. Dumping him and his $7.5 million salary was a no-brainer for GM Jerry Reese.
Cruz didn’t move the needle much in his last year as a Giant (and perhaps his last year in the NFL), but that shouldn’t take away from what he was able to accomplish early in his career. The undrafted UMass alum came out of nowhere to finish third in the league with 1,536 receiving yards in 2011 while helping the Giants upset New England in Super Bowl XLVI. He followed that up with another 1,000-yard season and his first Pro Bowl appearance a year later. Cruz was looked to as the Giants’ go-to receiver until Odell Beckham arrived in 2014.
With Cruz out of the picture, New York will now be tasked with finding a capable outside receiver to pair with Beckham. Second-round rookie Sterling Shepard is a possibility, though he spent most of his time in the slot last season. The Giants have the cap space needed to land a top-tier wide receiver. Unfortunately only one player on the market fits that description—Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery. Other options include Kenny Britt, Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Kenny Stills. If the Giants decide to wait until the draft to address their need at receiver, Corey Davis and Mike Williams might be players worth considering.
On the same day that Cruz got the axe, Jennings was also shown the door. New York’s running game was a glaring weakness in 2016. With Jennings at the head of New York’s running back committee, the Giants managed a league-worst six rushing touchdowns while averaging a lethargic 3.5 yards per carry. Jennings was a popular sleeper pick in fantasy last summer after finishing 2015 on a torrid hot streak (432 combined rushing yards over his last four games). That success didn’t carry over into 2016 as Jennings proceeded to be a colossal bust. The 31-year-old plodded his way to 593 yards on 181 carries and was often outplayed by fifth-round rookie Paul Perkins.
That could be the direction New York’s backfield is heading. After beginning the year as a complementary back, Perkins ended the season on nearly equal footing with Jennings. In fact, Perkins may have had a slight edge. He out-touched Jennings in each of the Giants’ last three games including their playoff loss to Green Bay. Perkins averaged 4.35 yards per carry during that stretch compared to 3.91 for Jennings. But more importantly, Perkins is nine years younger than Jennings, who turns 32 next month. Jennings doesn’t have the mileage of other backs his age because he’s never been a true workhorse. But after three forgettable years in New York, the Giants understandably felt it was time to move on.
The Larry Donnell Era in New York has also come to an end. Donnell was a fantasy darling in 2014 but has yet to reach those same heights. His breakout 2014 campaign included 63 catches for 623 yards and six touchdowns on 92 targets. Since achieving that high-water mark, Donnell has drawn just 63 targets including 22 this past season. Donnell has to be embarrassed by the fact that he played significantly fewer snaps than Will Tye, who earned PFF’s lowest tight end grade out of 65 qualifiers in 2016. None of it bodes well for Donnell as he seeks to land starter money on the open market.
Pulling the plug on an injury-prone wideout, an over-the-hill running back and a backup tight end is far from controversial, but the Giants certainly set the tone for their offseason by cleaning house on Monday. New York’s 11-5 record was their best since 2008, but the year ended on a sour note following a highly-publicized boat trip to Miami and a sluggish showing against the Packers on Wild Card Weekend. In Jerry Reese’s mind, getting to the playoffs isn’t enough. Playtime is over in East Rutherford. With $30 million in cap space and a lengthy shopping list (Evan provided a blueprint in his latest team needs column), the Giants should be in for an eventful offseason.
Quick Hits: Robert Saleh will take over as the Niners’ new defensive coordinator. This is Saleh’s first coordinating gig after spending the last several seasons as the Jaguars’ LBs coach. The 49ers are expected to transition into a 4-3 defense under Saleh … Richard Smith is headed to Los Angeles where he’ll serve as the Chargers’ new LBs coach. Smith had been Atlanta’s defensive coordinator but was surprisingly fired after the Falcons blew a 25-point lead against New England in Super Bowl LI … According to ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez, the Rams are expected to move on from Kenny Britt this offseason. The impending free agent racked up a career-high 1,002 receiving yards in 2016. Prior to that, no Rams receiver had topped 800 yards since Torry Holt in 2007 … Impending free agent Matt Schaub wants to go where he’ll have an opportunity to start. That seems unrealistic, though some reports have suggested Schaub may follow Kyle Shanahan to San Francisco, where he could serve as a bridge to a future franchise quarterback … The Jets are expected to release Ryan Clady before his $1 million roster bonus kicks in on Wednesday. The 30-year-old left tackle ended last season on injured reserve with a torn rotator cuff … According to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Raiders are not expected to re-sign Latavius Murray. The 27-year-old rushed for a career-high 12 touchdowns in 2016 … The Eagles are expected to trade Mychal Kendricks this offseason. Kendricks contributed a career-low 32 tackles in 2016 while losing playing time to Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks at linebacker … According to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, restricted free agent Malcolm Butler “won’t be going anywhere” this offseason. The Patriots are expected to place a first-round tender on their All-Pro cornerback, which would pay Butler an estimated $4 million. Teams can still try to sign Butler, but it would cost them a first-round pick and New England could match any offer he receives elsewhere … Per ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss, it’s a “certainty” Danny Amendola won’t be back at his current $6 million base salary for 2017. Amendola has taken a pay cut the last two seasons and will have to accept another if he plans on staying in Foxboro … According to Reiss, the Patriots aren’t expected to get into a “bidding war” for Martellus Bennett. The impending free agent did an admirable job filling in for Rob Gronkowski during the Patriots’ Super Bowl run, but is expected to be the top tight end available this offseason and could fall out of New England’s price range … It’s unclear if the Patriots will use the franchise tag this offseason (they didn’t last year), but if they do, it will be on Dont’a Hightower. That would pay the All-Pro linebacker an estimated $14.5 million … Terrelle Pryor’s representatives will meet with the Browns later this week. If a long-term deal isn’t reached before March 1, the Browns will almost certainly apply the franchise tag … After six years in Seattle, it looks like impending free agent Steven Hauschka will be headed elsewhere this offseason. Hauschka became expendable last week when the Seahawks signed former Vikings kicker Blair Walsh … According to ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim, impending free agent Pierre Garcon is expected to command $9 million annually on his next contract. Garcon led Washington in catches (79), receiving yards (1,041) and targets (116) in 2016 … Keim also believes there’s a “good chance” impending free agent Kirk Cousins will top Andrew Luck’s record for the largest contract in NFL history. Luck inked a six-year, $140 million extension with Indianapolis last offseason. That deal included $87 million in guaranteed money … DeSean Jackson said he’d like to re-sign with Washington this offseason. However, the Redskins are likely to move on, citing his inconsistency as a reason to cut ties. The Buccaneers, Eagles and Rams are a few of the many teams expected to pursue Jackson in free agency … Ryan Fitzpatrick’s deal with the Jets voided five days after the Super Bowl, making him a free agent. Because his $10 million signing bonus was spread out over two years, dumping Fitzpatrick will cost the Jets $5 million in dead money for next season … According to ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini, Matt Forte is staying put. The 31-year-old produced eight touchdowns in 2016 but will likely take on a lesser role next season after being outplayed by Bilal Powell late in the year … The Saints are expected to pick up Brandin Cooks’ fifth-year option for 2018. Cooks was the subject of trade rumors last season, though ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett believes it’s unlikely the team will move him this offseason … Prince Amukamara is expected to command $8-9 million annually on his next contract. The free agent cornerback could be persuaded to stay in Jacksonville now that his former coach Tom Coughlin is the team’s executive vice president … Aldon Smith is reportedly under investigation following a domestic incident in California. Smith is still serving an indefinite suspension after commissioner Roger Goodell denied his reinstatement bid in December. He was hoping to have his case revisited in March … Quentin Moses and two others were killed in a house fire Sunday morning in Monroe, Georgia. The former Dolphins linebacker had been working as a defensive ends coach at nearby Reinhardt University.