The Bengals typically don’t go after many, if any unrestricted free agents each offseason.
They do, however, typically sign a couple of guys who were cut by their former team that offseason. The reason is because Cincinnati tends to have one or two big-name guys leave each offseason that results in a nice compensatory pick the following offseason. This year, the team is expected to net four compensatory picks due to their losses in the 2016 offseason.
That’s why a guy like Victor Cruz, who the Giants just cut, is someone to monitor for the Bengals. Signing a guy like Cruz doesn’t affect those compensatory picks, but it does give the team a low-risk free agent signing, which are about the only kind that the Bengals sign.
The Giants cut Cruz not because he can’t still be effective, but because the team will save $7.5 million in salary cap money by cutting the 30-year-old receiver. It wasn’t that long ago that Cruz was taking the NFL by storm when he caught 82 balls for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011. In 2012, Cruz caught 86 passes for 1,092 yards and 10 scores as he was becoming one of the league’s truly elite receivers.
Unfortunately, his career took a hard turn south in 2014. During a Week 6 game against the Eagles, Cruz went down with a torn patellar tendon, ending not only his 2014 season, but also helped keep him sidelined for all of 2015.
Cruz finally made his return to the field in 2016, scored a touchdown in Week 1 and appeared to be ready to help make an impact for the Giants, but that ended up being the only time he scored all year as he recorded just 39 catches for 586 yards (he missed Week 10 vs Bengals due to ankle injury).
Cruz received just 72 targets on the year while Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard combined for 274 targets. Had Cruz been more featured in the offense, his numbers would have been a lot better, so there’s reason to believe he can still be a productive receiver for a contending team.
The Bengals have their own questions at wide receiver this offseason with Brandon LaFell set to become a free agent. Ideally, the Bengals will to re-sign LaFell to aid the receiver unit next season with A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd.
The good thing about Cruz is he can play from the boundary or the slot, so he won’t be constricted in the Bengals’ offense, nor will he take away a significant amount of snaps from Boyd, who figures to be a full-time slot man.
Even if the Bengals re-sign LaFell, which shouldn’t cost all that much, signing Cruz for a cheap deal could still be a smart move, depending on how much confidence the team has in Cody Core and Alex Erickson to take on bigger workloads next season.