Bucs release defensive tackle Gerald McCoy

Tampa Bay parts ways with its most valued veteran after nine years.
Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy established himself as the defensive face of the franchise for nine seasons, but Tampa Bay parted ways with the popular player on Monday. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy established himself as the defensive face of the franchise for nine seasons, but Tampa Bay parted ways with the popular player on Monday. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published May 20, 2019|Updated May 21, 2019

TAMPA — The Bucs and Gerald McCoy “mutually agreed to part ways.”

That’s how McCoy’s nine-year career in Tampa Bay ended Monday, with a five-paragraph statement of sorts by the team.

Like they shook hands at an intersection, checked their watches, each knowing they had to move in opposite directions.

They could have said that McCoy was released, as if from the bondage of a losing franchise, given his freedom to pursue a Super Bowl ring.

But in the end it was a simple calculation.

The Bucs decided a long time ago — maybe after Bruce Arians was hired — that at 31, McCoy was no longer a $13 million player.

McCoy knew when he watched the New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta that he had to experience that feeling of winning a championship before his career ends.

If he was going to take a pay cut, it wouldn’t be on the hope that the Bucs end their 11-year playoff drought this year.

Now here’s the ironic part.

Related: MORE McCOY: What's Gerald McCoy's legacy as he leaves Tampa Bay?

In 2010, McCoy was selected No. 3 overall by the Bucs out of Oklahoma. Ndamukong Suh, from rival Nebraska, went one pick earlier to the Detroit Lions.

If reports are correct from Tampa Bay Times staff writer Thomas Bassinger and others, the Bucs will exercise their right this time to choose Suh over McCoy as a free agent. The word is one year, $10 million.

McCoy used to get grief from Bucs fans for helping quarterbacks up and being too nice. Suh once stomped on then-Packers guard Evan Smith during a Thanksgiving Day game and drew a two-game suspension from commissioner Roger Goodell.

Smith plays for the Bucs now. If the deal is reached, he can help the equipment men guess Suh’s shoe size.

In the end, the Bucs tried to do right by McCoy. They allowed his agent, Ben Dogra, to talk to other teams about a possible trade. But once those calls were made, they knew the Bucs weren’t paying McCoy $13 million with their lousy cap situation, so why should they?

McCoy gave the Bucs a binary choice. Pay me the $13 million for 2019 or release me. No hometown discounts. If he was going to take less money, it would be to chase a championship with another team.

The final decision was left to the Glazer family which owns the Bucs.

This decision may have been reached a week or two earlier, but then Jason Pierre-Paul suffered a cervical fracture when he ran his Ferrari into a concrete barrier on May 2. The Bucs needed time to send JPP to some specialists until it was determined he will miss at least four to five months. The whole season if he needs surgery.

Related: MORE ON McCOY: A look back at McCoy's Bucs career in photos

Here’s who McCoy is. When the accident happened, he considered staying. He didn’t want to abandon his teammates, particularly Lavonte David and Vita Vea.

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“These decisions are very difficult, personally and professionally,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said in a statement. “Over the past nine years, Gerald has been a cornerstone of this franchise and a leader in our community. Parting ways with a player and person such as Gerald is one of the toughest responsibilities of this job. We wish Gerald, along with his wife, Ebony, and the entire McCoy family continued success and thank them for everything they have meant to our organization and community.”

Arians didn’t help the Bucs by questioning McCoy’s production, value and his enthusiasm for the game in April. McCoy fired back with a stern rebuttal on Instagram, saying, “I work. Don’t you ever question me."

Arians gave McCoy some new fuel and it’s burned hot during his workouts. McCoy has become a vegan, trimmed down, felt his knees lose their swelling. He wants to play three or four more years.

Related: MORE ON PIERRE-PAUL: For now, Jason Pierre-Paul will not have surgery

There will be plenty of teams wanting to sign him. The Patriots, Saints, Browns and Chargers, to name a few. He’s made well more than $100 million. It won’t mean a thing if he ain’t got that ring.

The Bucs defensive line is parchment paper thin as it is. Having to start a season without Pierre-Paul and McCoy, who was third in sacks with six and led the team with 21 quarterback pressures, will be devastating. McCoy’s 54.5 career sacks in 123 games ranks fourth in the NFL among active defensive tackles. Suh has 56 but played in 33 more games. Over the past five seasons, McCoy has been a better pass rusher.

McCoy’s loss will be felt on the community as well.

At Christmas he roams One Buc Place, passing out gift cards to expensive restaurants to equipment managers, trainers, media relations staff, secretaries and cafeteria workers. He plays Santa Claus to 40 families selected by Metropolitan Ministries, personalizing gifts to match the children's wish lists. In the summer he pays for 500 kids to attend his youth football camp.

McCoy wants to take a few days before reacting to the news. But before a preseason game in Jacksonville two years ago, he knew this day was coming.

“I’ve never said this before, but I’m going to say it now: I think once I’m gone, people will understand," McCoy told me that day. “I really do. Because there’s a lot that I do that people don’t see. And it’s just you get to a point where you don’t know because you’re so used to seeing it, and when it’s not there, it’s like, well what happened with …?”

They mutually parted ways.

Contact Rick Stroud at Follow him @NFLStroud.