TAMPA — The Browns had the most talent, especially on the defensive line. The Ravens had the winning tradition, with two Lombardi trophies. But Carolina had something that Gerald McCoy couldn’t get by playing for those other teams: revenge.
The news Monday was that McCoy, the former Bucs defensive tackle, had decided to sign a one-year, $8 million contract with the Panthers that could be worth as much as $10.25 million based on playing incentives.
But if you’ve been following how this whole ugly divorce played out, you know there is motive to McCoy’s decision.
Heck, the Bucs practically goaded him into it.
This is not to suggest that the Bucs didn’t have every right to determine that McCoy wasn’t worth the $13 million he was owed for 2019. Given their lousy salary cap situation, it wasn’t even surprising.
The problem is, they tried to have it both ways.
Soon after Bruce Arians was hired as the new coach, the Bucs were all too eager to suggest that not only would McCoy be a good “fit,” for the new 3-4 defense under coordinator Todd Bowles, but that heck, $13 million didn’t seem that out of whack considering Ndamukong Suh made $14 million with the Rams for 4.5 sacks last season.
At the NFL combine in February, Arians indicated McCoy could adapt.
“Gerald’s played three-technique in his life, and we have a three-technique in our defense,” Arians said. “We’re penetrators, we’re not two-gap. When people say 3-4, they all think of two-gap. We’re not that at all, we’re penetrators, we’re attackers, so for him it’s probably going to be no change for what he’s done in his career.
“He’s still a premier pass rusher. I think he fits our defense, he’s a three-down player, so yeah, I mean stats don’t always say how good of a player you are, especially at that position.”
That may have been rhetoric in hopes of stirring up trade interest for McCoy.
But a month later at the league meetings in Arizona, Arians was openly questioning McCoy’s “enthusiasm” for the game and said he was not the disruptive player he was four years ago.
When the Bucs signed Suh to a one-year, $9.25 million contract last week, Arians told ESPN that McCoy wasn’t a good match for his team after all, contradicting his earlier statements.
“It just wasn’t a fit,” Bruce Arians told ESPN. “Whether it was financial, whatever, on the field, you know, it just didn’t fit. I’ve been through this a number of times with guys and great players and it just comes a time when they have to separate the organization. You go back to Franco Harris not being a Steeler. This has happened for a long, long time.”
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It’s one thing to move on from the best player on your roster in the past decade, one of only a couple players in franchise history to be named to six Pro Bowls and third on the team’s career sack list with 54.5.
It’s another to trample on the reputation of a guy who has also has been the franchise’s best representative in the community.
If McCoy was ever undecided about which team to sign with, and word was that he took the weekend at home and even lunch with his wife Monday to reach a final decision, the Bucs tipped the scales toward Carolina.
Suh posted a picture of himself wearing McCoy’s No. 93 on Twitter Monday afternoon. Although he may never say it, this was the ultimate sign of disrespect to McCoy.
As Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano points out, the Bucs broke with their own protocol. No Tampa Bay player who has made at least five Pro Bowls has had his jersey number immediately handed out again. Not the No. 40 of Mike Alstott, which was requested this year by first-round pick Devin White.
The Bucs’ argument will be that Suh is just as accomplished in his career as McCoy and there is some truth to that. But Suh wore No. 90 with the Detroit Lions, yielding No. 93 to newcomer veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch. Jason Pierre-Paul wears No. 90 for the Bucs.
Shortly after McCoy announced his decision, he told ESPN’s Josina Anderson in a text, “Carolina was a great fit for me. Being around the guys we just meshed & I love the instant chemistry we had. They have a tradition of great defense. I love the players & I believe in #1 Ron Rivera is a proven coach & I can’t wait to get started.”
To say McCoy relishes the opportunity to play twice against the Bucs next season may be an understatement.
“See you Week 2!” McCoy texted to me Monday.
Four days after the Bucs host San Francisco in the regular-season opener, they play the Panthers in Charlotte on Thursday Night Football.
Unfortunately for McCoy, his return to Raymond James Stadium won’t occur in 2019.
The Bucs will play Carolina in London Oct. 13, forfeiting a game at RJS as part of their agreement to host the Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, 2021.
The Bucs have talked a lot about attitude and using Suh as a tone setter, despite his history of suspensions and fines for personal fouls.
“I hope I still see that look in his eye, and I can handle the rest, that’s easy,” Arians said. “I just want to see that look in his eye...that look when he got those penalties, that look.
“I’d like to see him play that way, and get everyone around him to play that way.”
Finally, the Bucs have accomplished what they wanted with nice guy Gerald McCoy. They’ve made him angry.