PHOENIX — Gerald McCoy, the six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, won’t leave the Bucs the way he came in, with a hug.
When he was drafted No. 3 overall in 2010 by Tampa Bay, his favorite team growing up in Oklahoma, McCoy walked across the stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and squeezed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, beginning a trend of player embraces.
Now any mention of McCoy to the Bucs is met with a shrug.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht has been non-committal when asked about McCoy returning for his 10th season.
On Tuesday, coach Bruce Arians spoke glowingly about nearly every player on the Bucs roster until the discussion turned to McCoy.
Arians doubted whether McCoy, at 31, will ever have the kind of production to match his $13 million salary.
“He’s not as disruptive as he was four years ago,” Arians said. “But he’s still pretty disruptive. He’s still a good player.”
Why is there so much ambiguity about McCoy? Well, start with the fact that the Bucs have only $2 million of salary cap space, worst in the league and not enough to sign their draft class.
Although McCoy is halfway through a six-year, $95 million contract, none of the remaining money is guaranteed. While he had six sacks and a team-best 21 quarterback hits last year, his 28 total tackles matched a career low for a full season. He missed the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2011. He wasn’t voted captain.
“I got to evaluate him,” Arians said. “I mean, guys at a certain age, it’s different. Usually, the age they get paid the most and production (doesn’t) match. We’ve got to find that out.”
The next chance will be when the Bucs report to their offseason conditioning program April 1. Then three days prior to the NFL draft, Arians will have his first voluntary minicamp.
“It’s very hard because we can’t get in pads, but you can still see it,” Arians said. “And you still see his enthusiasm for the game. If he still has all that I’m fine. As a coach, I coach who I got. If guys don’t show up, don’t ask me about them because I talk about the guys that show up. Hopefully we’ll see how that goes.”
Okay, enough of this charade.
McCoy isn’t going to be with the Bucs next season.
My guess is he won’t be at any offseason programs, minicamps or OTAs, either.
The clumsy way the Bucs have handled his departure is just reminiscent of how the organization has always said goodbye to its stars.
Maybe the Bucs have given McCoy’s agent, Ben Dogra, the ability to contact other teams in an attempt to find a possible trade partner. At minimum, they must feel a market may develop during, or shortly after, the NFL draft.
Most likely, the Bucs will just have to release McCoy.
When asked why there’s so much uncertainty about McCoy, Arians said, “Probably a better question for Jason because the financial is a big part of it.”
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McCoy is off social media and is not talking. But he will be walking.
McCoy had been working out in San Diego with trainer Todd Durkin. Word is his weight is down, his motivation is up and for the first time in his career, he has a good reason to play angry. Why wouldn’t he think he has three to four good years left?
When it comes to goodbyes, One Buc Place will never be confused with Casablanca.
John Lynch learned he was let go after the team failed him on a physical. He went on to pass one with the Broncos and made four more Pro Bowls.
Derrick Brooks, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, was part of a one paragraph release by the team that included dispatched players like Cato June. The stated reason was the Bucs wanted to make room for, ahem, Geno Hayes. Rather than uproot his family and play one more season in Atlanta or New Orleans, Brooks retired.
Both players are in the team’s Ring of Honor. McCoy will be, too.
But Arians has made it clear he has no sacred cows. “We have one goal every year and that’s to win the Lombardi Trophy,” Arians said. “Is that our goal this year? Hell yeah. We ain’t playing for second place or just to get better.
“We have one team, one cause. If you ain’t on that cause, you ain’t on the team. That’s it. If you’re not buying into that accountability to win that trophy, you’re not going to be a Buc. I don’t care who you are.”
It’s a shame, because McCoy has been a great player and a better person. His contributions to the community are immeasurable.
For some reason, because the Bucs have enjoyed only two winning seasons since he was drafted, McCoy has also become the face of that futility. Never mind Arians is fifth head coach.
The Bucs are switching to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Todd Bowles. There’s a spot for McCoy.
“Would I like to see more disruptive? Yeah. But we can use him,” Arians said. “If he’s here, he’s going to be used a bunch. It’s just a matter of what happens.”
But when asked if McCoy’s status still is up in the air, Arians said, “Everybody’s is. It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. It’s hard. It’s cold. That’s it. What are you going to do for me now? We’ve got to find that out.”
At 66, Arians isn’t in a rebuilding mode. But he also isn’t sentimental.
“I don’t want to look back,” Arians said. “What do we have now? I don’t really care what you did last year, in the last five years. It’s how do you fit now? Let’s move forward."
More than ever, it’s obvious they will do so without McCoy.