TAMPA — Gerald McCoy isn’t done playing football.
Yet here we are in April, with the first and second wave of free agency having come and gone, and McCoy is a man without a helmet.
He is in San Diego, rehabbing from a painful tear to his quadriceps tendon, and waiting to play any role for any NFL club that wants a 33-year-old, six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle who hasn’t taken a meaningful snap in more than 470 days.
“For me, I just love this game so much, it’s still fun to me,” McCoy said Monday by telephone after working out with trainer Todd Durkin. “I love competing. I just know what my mindset was going into last season and I don’t want an injury or what the NFL deems ‘age’ to be a derailment and finish like that. I know I can still be an asset to a team, whether it’s sparingly, as a starter, in the locker room, whatever it is. In training camp, a mentor to the young kids.
“I just know I have so much more to give this game, even if for a short period of time.”
A year ago, McCoy had everything he wanted. He had signed a three-year, $18.3 million contract to play for the Dallas Cowboys. He was close to his family home in Oklahoma. A member of America’s Team with playoff hopes and prime-time games in his future.
But fate had other plans. On his first day in pads with the Cowboys last August, McCoy sustained the season-ending injury.
“I was feeling better than I had felt in a long time and real motivated and excited to be where my family was close,” McCoy said. “Everything I’d been wanting as far as prime-time games and just everything that the Bucs got this year that I didn’t get to experience.”
It was a devastating injury because the quadriceps tendon controls the knee flexion. Without being able to bend the knee, the quad muscles begin to atrophy.
For a player as accomplished as McCoy, it would have been easy to call it a career. He had played 10 seasons and made more than $120 million. Had been named to the Pro Bowl six times. Played one season in Carolina after he and the Bucs mutually agreed to part ways shortly after coach Bruce Arians came aboard in 2019.
“My twins don’t understand me not playing because I told them I got hurt at the playground,” McCoy said. “I had my crutches and my brace on. They said, ‘Oh, daddy will be okay.’ Then opening day came and the Cowboys were playing, and they said, ‘Daddy, why are you still home? Are you going to the game?’ My family has never seen anything break me and I don’t plan on them seeing this break me, either.
“I don’t want my family to have to look outside the four walls around them to find an example of what it’s like to persevere.”
At this point, it’s time to address the Lombardi Trophy in the room.
Yes, it had to be bittersweet for McCoy to watch the Bucs win Super Bowl 55. The No. 93 playing defensive tackle on that team was Ndamukong Suh, not McCoy.
But he was truly happy for his teammates, especially players such as linebacker Lavonte David.
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“Lavonte hit me on FaceTime after they won the Super Bowl,” McCoy said. “The locker was empty. It was just me and him and we had a good talk. I don’t think people understand what we had prior about that moment. I think me and Lavonte had watched three, maybe four Super Bowls together. And every time that music plays when they’re walking the (Lombardi) trophy between the guys? It’s hard to sit and watch it happen to somebody else.
“I told him earlier in the year, ‘Y’all are one of the few teams that have a chance to win it all. Win the Super Bowl at home.’ I was so happy for them.”
Last month, McCoy said in an interview he would welcome a chance to return to the Bucs.
Now, he applauds their decision to keep all 22 starters from the Super Bowl team.
“But I told Lavonte, ‘Now you’re about to see what it’s like to be the hunted,’ ” McCoy said. “But what better person to have on your side than Tom Brady, the person who’s been hunted his whole career.”
As for McCoy, agent Ben Dogra says a few teams are keeping close tabs on his rehab.
“We’ve had a couple inquiries about his health and wanting to play,” Dogra said. “He’s most likely post-draft (before he gets an offer), but sometimes he’s emotional and wears it on his sleeve.”
That was the case Monday when McCoy began a tweet: “Missing the game!!!”
How much? In San Diego, McCoy goes to physical therapy at 8 a.m. An hour later he is in a training session. After that, it’s off to pilates.
The NFL Player’s Association is pushing for another virtual offseason. That could help McCoy continue to get stronger and healthier.
“I understand that I’ve been injured, and I honestly believe the lack of interest in me being on a team right now is because of my injury,” McCoy said. “I haven’t played in a year and I’m 33 years old. But man, when I still tell you I can play this game at a high level, I know I can.
“I just need that one team. And it will happen. I’m not saying I’m desperate. I just need that one team that will make that decision and I believe they’ll get more than they bargained for and I’m ready to show that. ... I’m locked in. Whenever a team calls and says, ‘Gerald, it’s time,’ I’ll be ready.”
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