When the Bears brought in free agent wide receiver Victor Cruz for a visit this week, they were bringing in more than a familiar name with a successful past who might have fallen from grace over the past few seasons.
They were bringing in a confident, hungry player who is out to prove he still can play the game he loves. And sometimes, that’s even more valuable than the talent left in the tank.
The Bears agreed to a one-year deal with the former New York Giants receiver this week and Cruz is eager to get to work with his new team.
“I’m excited, man,” Cruz said during an interview on the Waddle & Silvy show on ESPN radio. “I’m excited to come and have a fresh start and a new home and a new place.”
To expect Cruz to resemble the receiver he was during a three-year stint from 2011-13 would be a bit unreasonable. In that period, Cruz averaged 80 receptions, 1208 yards and 7.6 touchdowns per season. He was a big-time player for the 2011 Giants, who went on to defeat the New England Patriots, 21-17, in Super Bowl XLVI. In that game, Cruz caught four passes for 25 yards and a touchdown.
No, injuries happened to Cruz and he remains only a fraction of the player he once was.
Still, that doesn’t mean he isn’t worth rolling the dice on.
At 30 years old, Cruz insists he has “a lot left in the tank” and his value to the team will come in two different forms.
First, Cruz brings a veteran presence to a young receivers room that is looking to forge an identity after Alshon Jeffery departed via free agency this offseason.
“I looked at that receiver room and I saw a lot of young guys and a lot of talent in there as well,” Cruz said. “A lot of guys that can benefit from just having someone like me in the room, to pick my brain and for me to tell them how I think we can get better.”
Secondly, by signing a one-year deal, Cruz will be playing with a chip on his shoulder and with incredible motivation to produce so that he can prolong his career. Typically, this brings out the best in these players and that’s all the Bears can hope for from him.
But what about young players like Kevin White and Cameron Meredith? Won’t Cruz’s short stint with the Bears hinder their growth and development and take reps away from them?
No, not necessarily. In fact, if Cruz’s presence does just two things, let them be this: that the young Bears receivers can pick his brain and learn to hone their craft, and that competition will push them to be the very best they can be.
When training camp comes around, the Bears offense will certainly have a different look to it. With a new quarterback under center for the first time since 2009, Mike Glennon will be firing passes to a receiving corps that now looks like the following: Kevin White, Cameron Meredith, Markus Wheaton, Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright, Rueben Randle, and more…
How the depth chart shakes out — and who makes the final, 53-man roster — will be interesting to watch as the preseason unfolds. But I expect the Bears to have a different mindset at the position, one filled with toughness and competitiveness, and that only will be prevalent thanks to the depth that general manager Ryan Pace assembled this offseason.