TAMPA — Three simple truths regarding Gerald McCoy:
1. His play is no longer worth his salary.
2. The Bucs are a better team with him than without him.
3. The team has handled this poorly.
So, how do you reconcile those truths? Because Nos. 1 and 2 are difficult enough on their own, but No. 3 may have made it even harder.
The easiest answer is the Bucs bite the bullet and pay him $13 million. The problem with that, besides the idea of getting diminished value for your money, is the salary cap problems it causes.
The next solution would be releasing or trading him. Except he’s still one of your best interior linemen, so you’ll weaken a defense that was already among the sorriest in the NFL.
That leaves re-signing him to a smaller contract. And that might have been a great answer if the Bucs hadn’t spent the off-season annoying him unnecessarily.
Good times, eh?
The fundamental problem here is the size of McCoy’s paycheck. He’s due to be paid as if he were one of the top defensive linemen in the game, and his performance the past two years does not reflect that.
McCoy’s 2019 salary would make him the 17th highest-paid defensive linemen in the league, according to Spotrac.com figures. But if you go by profootballreference.com’s approximate value rating, he was the 39th best linemen over the past two seasons. Current rankings at Pro Football Focus have him at 28th among interior linemen.
And the gap between pay and performance is likely to widen.
At 31, he is one of the older starting defensive linemen around, and there are very few older guys who are still performing at an elite level at that position.
So do we agree the salary is a legitimate problem?
But if you’re new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, you don’t care that much about salaries and caps. You just want the best players available to fix this defense.
And, in Tampa Bay, McCoy is one of those guys.
The rap you hear these days is that he’s always getting banged up and his reputation is overblown. There may be a nugget of truth in those complaints, but there’s also some revisionist history.
It’s true McCoy has not played a full 16-game season since 2013, but he’s only missed eight starts in the past five years. That’s a pretty durable track record. He’s also gotten at least six sacks in every season since 2013, which is a rarity for an interior lineman.
He’s smart, accomplished and dependable, which are not descriptions you often hear when talking about Tampa Bay’s defense.
So do we agree he’s still a quality player?
And that brings us to Tampa Bay’s solution to this dilemma. Which, as far as I can tell, has the same urgency as my teenage son doing his homework.
The Tampa Bay Times’ Rick Stroud has reported that the team has not had any discussions with McCoy about re-negotiating his contract. You could argue that there is still plenty of time before training camp, and that is true. But why wait?
If you need him to take a reduced salary, you’re better off finding out if he is amenable right away. And if he declines and you do not want to invest $13 million in him this season, you should either trade or release him right now.
McCoy has been a model citizen around here for nearly a decade. He’s already been paid handsomely during that time, so the Bucs don’t owe him that $13 million.
But they do owe him a little more courtesy and respect.
Are the Bucs playing mind games with McCoy? That’s possible. The lack of a commitment and coach Bruce Arians’ comments that are not-quite-criticism yet definitely-not-complimentary could be meant to light a fire under him. And if McCoy returns and has a monster season, I’ll be blubbering about what a genius Arians is.
But for the moment, all I see is an angry player, a salary cap quandary and a spotty defensive line.
Somehow, the Bucs must add that all up and come out ahead.
Contact John Romano at [email protected]. Follow @romano_tbtimes.