Victor Cruz hasn't been with all of his Giants teammates since the season-ending rout of Philadelphia last Dec. 30. But he will be in the locker room when the players report for training camp on July 26 after today signing a multi-year contract extension through the 2018 season.
"I feel relief," Cruz said shortly after signing his contract at the Timex Performance Center. "I feel I can just kick back and play football again."
"We are pleased to have this behind us," general manager Jerry Reese said. "Now Victor can focus on football. Training camp is approaching quickly, and we all have a lot of work to do to get back where we want to be."
Cruz was one of the NFL's very best receivers in 2011 and 2012. In those two seasons, he caught 168 passes for 2,628 yards (15.6-yard avg.) and 19 touchdowns. He added 21 receptions for 269 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XLVI in the Giants' championship run 18 months ago.
In 2012, Cruz started all 16 games and led the Giants with 86 receptions for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns. Cruz has back-to-back seasons with at least 80 receptions, 1,000 yards and nine touchdown. No other Giants receiver has one.
Cruz's 86 receptions were the second-highest total in Giants history, trailing only Steve Smith's 107 catches in 2009. He was selected to the Pro Bowl, where he set the game record with 10 receptions in the NFC's 62-35 victory.
Cruz believes he will continue to post gaudy numbers.
"This is just another step to getting where I want to be at the end of my career," said Cruz, who is 26. "I love to do well for my team and do well each and every year and continue to prove myself and not feel complacent and not feel I've done enough. I want to continue to have catches and yards and touchdowns and help my team win and get to the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl. To do that in such an early part of my career was outstanding, but you want more, you want to continue to feel that. The work is just getting started for me. It's a whole new window of opportunity, a whole new world for me after this contract."
Because he was a restricted free agent and did not have a contract, Cruz did not attend the Giants' offseason conditioning program, the organized team activities or last month's minicamp. He signed his one-year tender after that camp concluded and the two sides continued to work on the long-term extension that was signed today.
Cruz knew he had to protect his best interest, but intensely disliked being separated from his teammates.
"That was the hardest part for me," Cruz said. "I'd see guys here and there, whether it was in the city or different spots around town. It was tough to talk to them, because they know I want to be there, they know that my heart was there, but it was the business side. It was hard for me to look them in the face and be sociable and be happy when I just wanted to be in that locker room and helping those guys out. Those are experiences and moments I'm missing. But they understand as much as I do that it's a business. They just cared about having me when camp starts and for Week 1."
Cruz worked out on his own throughout the spring and said he will report to camp in top condition.
"I've been getting some local guys I played with to throw to me," he said. "I've been training. During the offseason program here, I was trying to develop an offseason workout for myself with my trainer. I feel like I'm ready to go. I feel like I'm prepared. I feel good and I'm excited."
Asked about the time he missed catching passes from Eli Manning, Cruz said, "I think we'll be okay in terms of coming into camp. Eli and I have a great rapport. I think we're going to get together on our own before camp starts."
Cruz, of course, is one of the NFL's most inspiring success stories. A local product (Paterson, N.J.) who signed as a free agent from a small football school (Massachusetts), he didn't catch a pass while playing in just three games as a rookie in 2010. Now he's one of the NFL's very best receivers and one of the most valuable and popular Giants. Cruz took a moment to ponder all of that when he signed the contract that will provide him lifetime security.
"On the way here I was talking to my girlfriend (Elaina Watley)," Cruz said. "She said, 'You fight 26 years all your life, up and down, going through the trials and tribulations, for this one day. To come from where I've come from - a lot of guys don't see graduation day in college, let alone this day in the National Football League. Words can't even describe how I feel. Words can't even describe the energy that's flowing through my body right now. It's a beautiful, great feeling."