TAMPA – “It was 2011,” said. Evan Smith. “A long time ago.”
Yes, a long time ago, during a Thanksgiving game in Detroit. Smith, then playing offensive line for the Green Bay Packers, found one of his arms under one of the shoes of Detroit Lions defensive star and wild child Ndamukong Suh, who stomped away at Smith on his way to another fine and suspension.
“A long time ago,” Smith repeated.
Here’s how long ago: Last Friday, when Suh, the Bucs big signing, walked through halls, he saw Smith, who has been with the Bucs since 2014. Their eyes met.
Then their hands, not the earth, shook.
“It was just coincidence, really,” Smith said. “I was just walking out of a meeting; man, and he was just walking right by. It was fine. We’re fine.”
There are no dinner plans, and the guess here is that neither man will be the other’s Kris Kringle at Christmas. But Ndamukong Suh is a Buc, Gerald McCoy isn’t and Evan Smith is. It’s professional football.
“It’s not for meek people,” Smith said.
It’s for teammates.
“Here’s the thing about it, man, when you come to work, you get paid to do a job. You don’t get paid to hate people, you get paid to play with them,” Smith said. “He’s here to help us win football games.”
True, I don’t know what else Smith is supposed to say. He’s just trying to stay in the league. Suh’s presence is the least of his concerns.
A lot of people think a lot of things about Suh. One of them is Don Kruder, a Tampa realtor and Bucs season-ticket holder who on Tuesday attended the first day of the Bucs’ mandatory mini-camp. Kruder wore his No. 93 McCoy jersey as if in protest as he watched Suh, the new 93.
“I don’t like the pick-up of Suh,” Kruder said. “I think he’s a dirty player. I don’t think he’s going to be as good as Gerald in the locker room. This is just my way of protesting. I don’t think they should have given him Gerald’s number. I’m looking at Gerald McCoy reaching down to help pick up somebody on the ground. I’m looking at Suh stomping them. But I can change my mind.”
Evan Smith might help in that regard. This is the NFL, where things happen, where guys change teams just like that, where an enemy can become a friend. At each other’s throat to having each other’s back. It’s the natural NFL order.
“Heat of the battle, man,” Smith said. “The only guys who can maybe understand this world are guys who have served. That’s about it. Football is not a nice sport. He’s a football player. I don’t go out and hug every guy I play against.”
Suh’s fire is legendary.
“Ain’t enough fire in the world,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “Burn some guys around you.”
My problem with Suh being here has nothing to do with his publicized extra curriculars. He has never had made trouble off the field and has done some good things in his communities, though maybe not as many as McCoy.
The NFL is filled with guys who are craven … domestic violence, sexual assault, that fiend in Kansas City accused of breaking a child’s arm … so what does Suh’s erratic temperament matter? And maybe Suh’s footsteps can put a few bubbles in the blood of Drew Brees, Can Newton and Matt Ryan. Suh could help the Bucs steal a win. What, their fifth?
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But mostly this feels like a bad fit, a tire patch for a franchise that mismanaged McCoy out of town. Suh is a $10-million hired gun, a mercenary who won’t be here whenever the Bucs get to where they hope to go.
Suh to the Rams last year made sense, even more sense when he kicked it in during the postseason. But bringing him here makes no sense other than to cover GM Jason Licht’s muddy tracks. The Rams were close. The Bucs aren’t that one player away.
The fact that Suh settled for the Bucs is telling, even though he likes both Todd Bowles and sunshine. But you’d think a chance at a Super Bowl ring would be on his mind at this point. It clearly isn’t. That’s a red flag in and of itself.
What’s going to happen when the Bucs are 4-8? You have a 32-year-old guy who has a lot of smarts, who knows that they’re not going anywhere and he’s collecting his check. There are a lot of those kind of players, especially when they’re 32. That’s why when you’re a rebuilding team you always want younger players on the field, because they’re going to play their tails off no matter what.
Bringing in Suh makes no sense in the context of the Bucs’ status. You’re spinning your wheels at a spot where a younger guy can get snaps, whitewashing over McCoy’s departure.
But Suh’s temper has nothing to do with it.
Dirty? I think that stuff is overplayed.
But don’t take my word for it.
Talk to Evan Smith, and his stomped arm. He and Suh aren’t besties, but they’re pros. Pros get paid and then they go to Pro Bowls and laugh about how much they make. It’s business.
“People are making too big a deal of this,” Smith said. “I know you guys love it. But its football. We’re grown men with families. We’re not out trying to kill guys 24/7. It’s a business, a tough sport. It’s not for the meek people.”
Sometimes it takes a teammate.
Contact Martin Fennelly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @mjfennelly.