The 2017 veteran makeover of the Bears’ wide-receiver position group continued on Thursday with the signing of former New York Giants wideout Victor Cruz to a one-year deal, a fourth move this offseason fitting an intriguing pattern in Bears roster construction.
Cruz “announced” the move on his Instagram account, declaring, “The Giants will forever be family,” Cruz wrote. “But for now, Bear down!!!” He becomes the fourth free-agent wide receiver signed by Bears and coming in with no fewer than four seasons of NFL experience.
The Bears have been about the business of shoring up their receiver group virtually since the 2016 season ended, adding depth in addition to filling in the vacancies created by Alshon Jeffery leaving for the Philadelphia Eagles via free agency, and the subsequent release of veteran Eddie Royal.
In their places, the Bears have added Cruz, Rueben Randle (Jan. 10), Markus Wheaton (Mar. 10) and Kendall Wright (Mar. 11), in addition to having Joshua Bellamy, Daniel Braverman, Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson and Kevin White in place.
Cruz, whose trademark Salsa dance to celebrate touchdowns has been an NFL staple over his six seasons with the Giants, for whom he started 53 of 70 career games after signing with the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts in 2010. Cruz has caught 303 career passes for 4,549 yards and 25 touchdowns, earning a Super Bowl ring with the Giants and earning selection to the 2012 Pro Bowl.
Cruz has not played a full 16-game season since 2012, when he caught a career-best 86 passes for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns. He missed all of 2015 after rehabbing from a torn patellar tendon in the 2014 season and then suffering a calf injury that eventually required surgery. The Giants released Cruz in early February this year.
At the point where Kevin White’s 2016 season ended with a broken leg just four games into his de facto “rookie season,” the wide receiver was leading the Bears in receptions. Informal indications are that White already is making an impression in that direction.
White was in attendance at Tuesday’s OTA but it was Monday when he gave new Bears quarterback Mike Glennon a glimpse of the possibilities the Bears saw when they made White the No. 7 pick of the 2015 draft.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Kevin on the field and off the field,” Glennon said on Tuesday. “He works his butt off. And he made some really good plays [Monday] that got me excited and the rest of the team. He’s really eager to learn. I know he’s eager to get back out on that field. Him along with a lot of other receivers, I think, have a chip on their shoulder to prove that it’s a good receiving corps.”
The Bears have never pushed White to accelerate any surgery or planned rehab program and they clearly are not doing it now. White’s 2015 season never got past a stress fracture suffered in pre-camp work, and the organization opted for a conservative approach rather than surgery until an operation was unavoidable.
At this point of White’s third offseason, the approach remains controlled, less interested in any given OTA day than in a phased return pointed toward training camp and ultimately the 2017 season.
“We’re just trying to make sure we get guys ready for camp, and even more precisely, for game one against Atlanta,” said coach John Fox. “So we’re going to do anything necessary to make that done.
In just the last three NFL seasons the Bears have changed every significant skill position on the offensive side of the ball. Gone are quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte, wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and tight end Martellus Bennett.
It's a new era in Chicago for more reasons than one, and Monday Morning Quarterback's Peter King shared his thoughts on what that might look like in his latest NFL Power Rankings.
King has the Bears ranked 28th, ahead of just the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers. But he's optomistic on a few fronts.
- Free-agent signing Mike Glennon is grinding his teeth over the drafting of QB Mitchell Trubisky (second pick in the draft), and he has one season to stake his claim for the job. (I wouldn’t be optimistic in the Glennon household.)
- Second-round tight end Adam Shaheen will step in early in a prominent offensive role.
- The starting quarterbacks from 2016—Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley—were all let go, an odd development for a team that retains the same coach, offensive coordinator and GM
- At quarterback, I don’t just assume that Glennon/Trubisky will automatically be better than what Chicago had last year. Thankfully, running back Jordan Howard came out of nowhere (the 2015 fifth round) to gain 1,313 yards, to rank a stunning second in the NFL. It’s vital he doesn’t have a sophomore slump. In short, I can’t see the Bears being .500 unless one of the quarterbacks emerges as a top 20 passer by early in the season.
- Most important factor to this team this year: Of course it’s the quarterback race between Glennon and Trubisky. That one’s too obvious. There’s another one. Kevin White was the seventh pick of the 2015 draft. In two years, he’s played four of 32 games, caught zero touchdown passes, and had zero impact. This is the year the Bears have to see some degree of explosiveness and/or competence out of a player drafted ahead of Vic Beasley, Melvin Gordon and Marcus Peters.
- Bears prediction of 10 words or less: Trubisky is the quarterback by Thanksgiving. It doesn’t matter.
King's final thought might be his most interesting. Trubisky starting by Thanksgiving would put the Bears in Week 12. Quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone doesn't seem intent on delegating any starting duties out in the preseason, but perhaps that would change as the season moves along. Shaheen will be asked to do plenty of learning and growing in his first season, while it's clear White needs a breakout season after the Bears moved on from Jeffery in the offseason.