The newest Bears free agent has caused quite a stir during the week of his signing.
On a Tuesday morning radio show, Victor Cruz shook the sports world with a bold conspiracy theory that the Giants had intentionally diminished his opportunities so it would be easier to cut him. His theory includes several components: he was ballin’ for the first half of the year before his targets dropped; if he’d had a 1000 yard, 5 or 6 TD season, fan approval would have made it harder to cut him; his targets decreased despite being frequently-to-always open; the only reasonable conclusion is that his role was intentionally decreased to make him easier to cut.
Perhaps the smartest comment made by Cruz in the interview is his claim that the truth is in the tape and his suggestion to “watch the tape” and see how often he is open if you don’t believe him. Genius. He leaves us with the option to take his word for it or pull out the all-22 tape and watch to see if he’s open for each of his 331 snaps in the second half of the season. Well played, Victor.
I have chosen a third option: to run some quick calculations with numbers that are readily available. Let’s start with looking at his game-by game stats:
At first glance, the only thing that stands out is an overall low reception percentage and a season that looks like a far cry from the 1000 yards and 5 touchdown example Cruz provided as a season that would make him hard to cut. He did have low target games at the end of the season, but he also had a 13 target game against the Eagles in game 15.
Let’s look at the two halves of his season separately. Since he got injured early in the first Eagles game and sat out the following week, I’ll compare his first 7 games to his last 7.
Now we can see there was a notable decrease in targets in the later games (by about 25%). We also see a similar decrease snap percentage, as well as a decrease in reception percentage and yards per reception.
So how do Cruz’s claims stand up to scrutiny?
He was ballin’ for the first half of the year before his targets dropped
Cruz was literally playing a sports game that involved a ball for the first half of the year. He was on pace for a 55 reception 750 yard, 2 touchdown season with below average reception percentage before his brief injury. While I would be happy to get that kind of production from him for the Bears this year, he was hardly salsa-dancing his way to the Pro Bowl.
If he’d had a 1000 yard 5 or 6 TD season, fan approval would have made it harder to cut him
I won’t attempt to predict the emotional inclinations of the New York fan base, but it’s worth noting that Cruz was never on track for a 1000 yard or 5 TD season. If you project his average efficiency over the season, he would have needed 50 more targets to reach 1000 yards and 288 more targets to reach 5 touchdowns.
His targets decreased despite being frequently-to-always open
As I admitted before, I’m not going to take the time to count how often Cruz was open, but comparing his drop in targets with his drop in snaps suggests the later is the explanation for the former. On a per snap basis, Cruz was targeted 9.7% of the time in his first 7 games and 9.1% of the time in his final 7 games. If there is a conspiracy, a decrease in snap count is a lot more believable than Eli Manning intentionally refusing to throw to an open receiver in a playoff-bound season with an anemic offense.
The only reasonable conclusion is that his role was intentionally decreased to make him easier to cut.
Cruz did have a decrease in snaps in the second half of the season and this did lead to a decrease in production, but there are plausible explanations that don’t involve a nefarious plot to decrease his fan support. I’ll provide one: his play diminished after an injury. This explanation is backed up by a notable drop in reception percentage (from a mediocre 59% to a bottom-dwelling 47%).
Overall, it’s not impossible that Cruz is right, but his lack of insight into his role in his decreased production suggests a concerning lack of accountability and maturity. One potential benefit of bringing someone like Cruz in to a young Bears receiving core is the hope that he could act as a mentor for younger players. These comments bode poorly for promise in that area.