TAMPA — After assembling their high-dollar free-agent class this year, the Bucs celebrated the signing of guard Carl Nicks just as much as the sexier acquisition of top-flight receiver Vincent Jackson.
Nicks, an All-Pro with the Saints, was seen as the final piece of a dominant line that would lead to a powerful running game.
But the next time the Bucs and their fans will see Nicks' formidable downhill blocking will be in 2013.
Nicks was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a lingering toe injury requiring surgery. The Bucs said the plantar plate in Nicks' left foot is torn. The plantar plate, near the ball of the foot, holds the toe joints together and lets toes bend. When it is injured, the impact is far-reaching as the plate supports a person's entire weight — and Nicks is listed at 349 pounds.
"It's been unbelievable what he's been able to play through," Bucs safety Ronde Barber said Tuesday on his weekly radio show on 620-AM. "It's about the size of two golf balls."
The injury to Nicks was just the latest in a string of injuries and setbacks that have besieged some key Bucs.
Two-time Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph was lost to a major knee injury in a preseason game. Last month, 2011 first-round pick Adrian Clayborn, the team's top returning sacker, sustained a season-ending knee injury. This month, starting cornerback Aqib Talib was hit with a four-game suspension for using a performance-enhancing drug that he says was Adderall.
Da'Quan Bowers, who ruptured an Achilles tendon in the offseason, is only now returning, nearly six months later.
Nicks has dealt with his injury for weeks. It severely limited him in practice in recent weeks but had not kept him out of any game action. He said recently that he anticipated the injury lingering through the season, but never suggested it would be season-ending.
The injury grew gradually worse the past several weeks, though he kept playing at a high level. He was known to be coping with considerable discomfort.
The news continues the constant upheaval on the offensive line, considered the strength of the team before the season.
Joseph's injury was followed by the benching of veteran right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Demar Dotson took his place and continues to start. That was followed by the benching of Joseph's replacement, Ted Larsen, who was replaced by journeyman Jamon Meredith.
Nicks' placement on injured reserve means that just two of the Bucs' five projected offensive-line starters will line up Sunday against the Raiders: left tackle Donald Penn and center Jeremy Zuttah.
Nicks was a member of the team's celebrated class of free agents this offseason, signing a five-year, $47.5 million contract in March.
Also Tuesday, the Bucs placed rookie tight end Danny Noble on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. They promoted guard Roger Allen from the practice squad.
The choice to replace Nicks is not a slam dunk. The Bucs will have to consider their options. Larsen is among them, as is Trueblood — who the Bucs also considered as an option at right guard. The Bucs could also consider Cody Wallace, one of their backup interior linemen.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
The Bucs could seek a trade. The NFL, in the wake of disruptions caused by Hurricane Sandy, moved the trade deadline from Tuesday to Thursday. But landing offensive linemen in a trade assumes there is a team with a surplus willing to move one, not something easily found.
Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report. Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.