With Alshon Jeffery leaving in free agency and Kevin White’s status already up in the air, the Chicago Bears have continued to add to their wide receivers room. And the newest member is a Super Bowl champion with a Pro Bowl pedigree, who made was one of the most dynamic targets for quarterback Eli Manning. A few years ago, at least.
Victor Cruz flashed tremendous ability from 2011 to 2013, catching more than 200 passes, gaining more than 3,000 yards, and scoring 23 receiving touchdowns during that three-year stretch. Cruz is now three years removed from that stretch, but is out to show he can still get it done and will do so for a team in search of a playmaking receiver.
Player, Age (in 2017), Position
Victor Michael Cruz, 31, wide receiver
One year, $2 million + up to $2 million more via incentives, per Art Stapleton of The Bergen (N.J.) Record
- Season stats: 15 games (12 starts), 39 catches (72 targets), 586 yards, 1 touchdown
- Pro Football Focus Grade: 53.9, 99th of 115 qualifying receivers
The 2016 season represented Cruz’s first game action since Game 6 of the 2014 season, where he suffered a knee injury against the Philadelphia Eagles. Cruz showed he had lost a step compared to the player he was before the injury, but he showed flashes of brilliance in two games. He recorded 91 receiving yards on four catches in a 16-13 win against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 18 and an eight-catch game for 84 yards in a 24-19 loss to the Eagles on Dec. 22. It was Cruz’s first game at Lincoln Financial Field, where he suffered his devastating knee injury.
Performance Before 2016
- Career stats: 70 games (53 starts), 303 catches (509 targets), 4,549 yards, 25 touchdowns (plus 1 rushing touchdown)
- PFF grades: 59.1 (2010), 82.7 (2011), 77.6 (2012), 79.5 (2013), 68.0 (2014)
From 2011 to 2013, Cruz was one of the NFL’s most exciting receivers. Cruz’s connection with Manning was one of football’s most dynamic, and a bit unexpected considering Cruz ascent began when he was signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Massachussetts in 2010. He appeared in three games in 2010, but didn’t make his first catch until a Week 2 win against the St. Louis Rams in 2011. An injury to fellow wideout Dominik Hixon opened the door for Cruz’s breakout, which began with a three-catch, 110-yard, two-touchdown game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
That game was a springboard for Cruz’s career. It was the first of 18 career 100-yard receiving games and one of four games in which he scored multiple touchdowns.
During this three-year streak, Eli Manning posted a 96.6 quarterback rating as he completed 241 of 386 passes thrown to Cruz for 3,626 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. That’s pretty good.
One of the reasons Cruz was released by the Giants in February and hit the market in the first place is because of a knee injury that cost him a major chunk of the 2014 season and was part of why he missed the 2015 season. The torn right patellar injury ended his season, and a former NFL physician told the New York Daily News that Cruz won’t likely be the same after surgery. That has turned out to be the case.
Cruz’s comeback attempt was cut short in 2015 because of a calf injury that required season-ending surgery.
Where Cruz Fits
Kendall Wright. Markus Wheaton. Victor Cruz.
Notice a pattern?
Cruz is the latest free agent signed by GM Ryan Pace to come to Chicago on a short-term deal looking to rejuvenate their respective careers. And it’s not just receivers, but it has certainly included a lot of receivers.
In total, the Bears have added seven new receivers to their roster this offseason – with Cruz being the latest. Like Wheaton and Wright, Cruz had prior success before an injury and/or a decrease in playing time made them expendable to their previous teams.
Signing Cruz is a “can’t hurt, could help” scenario that comes at a low cost and minimal risk. If he can prove to be healthy, he could evolve into a pass catching option for Mike Glennon. But if Cruz can’t shake the injury bug, then there isn’t much lost by the Bears in giving him a shot.