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Gerald McCoy should be thankful for the high cost of freedom

The Bucs defensive tackle is kissing goodbye a $13 million contract but will be better off on a team with legitimate playoff chances.
Former Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) will continue his quest for his first NFL postseason experience in another city after Tampa Bay released him Monday. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published May 21

TAMPA – Gerald McCoy lost millions of dollars on Monday.

Not only that, one of the best players to ever wear a Buccaneers uniform was given no parade, no gold watch, no final stroll into the sunset. And now that his time in Tampa Bay has come to this unceremonious end, there is only one thing left to say:

Congratulations!

Seriously, this was the best outcome McCoy could have hoped for. He gets to pack his cleats, his cars and his dignity, and leave the world’s longest-running fire drill behind him.

MORE McCOY: What kind of legacy does he leave behind?

Losing his salary might be a bummer, but it wasn’t like he was counting on those paychecks to come rolling in. He knew the Bucs had no intention of paying him $13 million this season, so his non-guaranteed contract was more illusion than obligation.

That meant his only plausible choices were to accept a significant pay cut to stay in Tampa Bay, or get released and play for that smaller salary on a team with a legitimate chance to win.

In that sense, the Bucs did McCoy a favor by cutting him sooner rather than later.

Now for you, the fan, the news is more mixed. Even if McCoy, at 31, was no longer the player he had been in his prime, he was still a dependable presence on a ramshackle defense.

The salary cap might be in better shape today, but the Bucs are not a better team.

Now maybe they already have an alternative in mind. Maybe they’ve been on the phone with Ndamukong Suh and feel their defense will be better off with his grumpier attitude.

But those are questions for another day. Today belongs to McCoy and his legacy.

And, sadly, that legacy is more fraught than it should be.

The truth is it should be a no-brainer. McCoy was a great player for a brief period, and a very good player the rest of the time. He was a treasure in the community, and an ambassador when the Bucs needed one most.

MORE McCOY: How the Bucs finally made the move they have pondered for months

Unfortunately, he is also the new standard for a hard-luck player in Tampa Bay. No one has ever played as many games for the Bucs (123) without reaching the postseason. That includes Paul Gruber, who at least went out with a flourish with two playoff teams during the Tony Dungy era.

McCoy, on the other hand, was the biggest star on a bad sitcom. He did his time, and he did it with grace and uncommon ability. It was not his fault that the Bucs finished in last place in seven of his nine seasons. And it was not his fault that the defense, more often than not, was in the NFL’s bottom third.

For a lot of those years, McCoy was the only reason to cheer on a Sunday afternoon. He was drafted high, he was paid extraordinarily well, and he earned every penny and accolade.

Yet many will choose to remember McCoy for what he was not. For instance, he was not a Hall of Fame player. And he was not the second coming of Warren Sapp. But, mostly, he was not able to lead the Bucs out of a decade-long funk.

For that reason, this separation was the way to go. The odds are against a dramatic turnaround for Tampa Bay in 2019, and watching McCoy waste more of his few remaining games was senseless.

And, honestly, with a new coach in town it was probably best to have a new voice leading the locker room too. That’s not a reflection of McCoy’s leadership, just an acknowledgment of the realities involved.

PHOTO GALLERY: A look back at Gerald McCoy's time in Tampa Bay

This way, McCoy will have his best chance of reaching the postseason in years, and Todd Bowles can revamp the defense without any sacred cows in his path.

And some years down the road, the Bucs can invite McCoy back to Raymond James Stadium. They can call his name at halftime and a crowd can rise to its feet in appreciation.

It will be the sendoff he did not get this week.

It will be the sendoff he deserves.

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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