Like Bucs, Robert Ayers eager to reach 10 sacks
It's been well-documented that the Bucs haven't had a player reach 10 sacks in any season since 2005, and the newest addition to end that drought, Robert Ayers, can relate to the goal, having finished with 9.5 sacks in a career year with the Giants last season.
"Nine and a half sacks in 12 games is pretty impressive, and if you really study my film, you'll see I could have had a lot more. It takes a lot to get those sacks," said Ayers, 30, signed to a three-year, $19.5-million deal with the Bucs and introduced to the media Wednesday. "I don't think that half a sack cost me anything -- I think everybody did their due diligence and looked at what I presented, the way I played. Quite frankly, I think I beat a lot of guys, and I think they saw that."
Ayers came on strong last season with eight sacks in his final seven games, this after being limited by a hamstring injury early in the year. The Giants spent big on their defensive line, landing Olivier Vernon with an $85-million deal, giving Damon "Snacks" Harrison $24-million guaranteed and re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul with $8.5-million guaranteed on a one-year deal. Ayers said he'll use that as motivation, asked whether he could have as many sacks as Vernon or Mario Williams, who signed with the Dolphins.
"I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I feel it's going to be me," Ayers said. "That's the way I approach the game. That's the way I feel about myself. I feel I can compete with anyone every year. I go in wanting to win and wanting to be the best player. That's never going to change."
Ayers has 20 sacks in the last three seasons and part of his connection with Bucs coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith was Jack del Rio, who coached them in Jacksonville and was his defensive coordinator with the Broncos. He said del Rio used his versatility well, allowing him to rush some from the interior in addition to being an edge rusher, and he hopes for the same variety in how the Bucs use him.
Ayers visited the free-spending Jaguars after he spent time with the Bucs, and said while money was a factor in his decision, he saw a better fit for himself in Tampa, with coaches and a defense that gave him a better chance to maximize his contributions.
"It's all about opportunity," he said. "Everybody wants to get paid. I'd be lying if I said the money didn't matter. For me, I want to be a great player, and in this league, you have to be in the right system. You can take more money and go somewhere where you're asked to do things you're not good at. I wanted to be in a situation with a staff that understands what they're getting and that's going to utilize me ... I think they're going to allow me to do the things I do well."
Ayers said part of the allure was the chance to play with talented teammates, specifically mentioning defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander and even quarterback Jameis Winston.
"(McCoy) is a guy I've studied a lot, watched a lot. He's a tremendous player, one of the better players in the league," he said. "Then they have Lavonte David and the young rookie middle linebacker. They've got DBs and Jameis Winston, to be honest with you. In this league, you can't win without a quarterback. With him, I see a guy that can make that Cam Newton type of rise and can be a star in this league."
Ayers arrives in Tampa as the sixth-oldest player on roster, but he also comes from a background with winning teams -- he was with Denver for three playoff teams in 2011-13, including two 13-3 squads and one that lost to Seattle in the Super Bowl two years ago.
"I really do feel like I'm a proven player, and with opportunity and chance and me learning and me maturing, I'll continue to get better," he said.