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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. McCoy’s Bucs Farewell?
Next Sunday, when Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy trots out on to the field at Raymond James Stadium for the 2018 season finale against the Atlanta Falcons it might actually be his finale in Tampa Bay. For nine years since being the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, McCoy has been a fixture on the Bucs defensive line and a long-time face of the franchise. But with his six-time Pro Bowl streak coming to an end this year, along with his run as a team captain, does this mean the end is near for McCoy’s time in Tampa Bay?
It very well could be.
The Big Takeaway
McCoy, who will be 31 in February, made $12.275 million this year while producing just six sacks, and is slated to make $13 million in 2019. His age and big paycheck – he’s scheduled to have the third highest salary in Tampa Bay next year behind Jameis Winston and Mike Evans – make him vulnerable to being traded or released to free up salary cap room to be used elsewhere, especially if there is regime change. It’s safe to suggest that head coach Dirk Koetter will be replaced in January, and whether or not the Bucs retain general manager Jason Licht, the Bucs might be parting ways with McCoy regardless.
Licht signed McCoy to a six-year, $95.2 million contract extension years ago, and 2019 represents the first year in which there is zero dead salary cap money as it pertains to his contract. That means the Bucs can trade or release McCoy without any negative cap impact this offseason, while freeing up $13 million that could be used to extend the contracts of middle linebacker Kwon Alexander and left tackle Donovan Smith, both of whom are at the end of their contract year, or to extend the contract of defensive end Carl Nassib, who is entering a contract year in 2019.
If you don’t think McCoy is expendable because he’s still playing at a reasonably high level, look no further than his linemate, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who was acquired in a trade with the New York Giants in March for a third-round pick. The Giants hired a new general manager in David Gettleman in January and he wanted to remake the roster, clear some salary cap room and build through the draft. That’s why Pierre-Paul was made available via a trade.
McCoy could have a similar fate this offseason for similar reasons, especially with the emergence of first-round pick Vita Vea, who was drafted to eventually replace McCoy in the middle of Tampa Bay’s defense. McCoy is not immune to the thought that December 30 could be his last game in red and pewter.
The Quotes That Matter
“It’s a business, and I understand the business, but regardless of what happens in the future, all I can promise is that these last two games of the season, I’m going to prepare the same way I’ve always prepared, I’m going to give it everything that I’ve got,” McCoy said. “I’m going to do what I’ve always done – just do what I can to help my team. Whatever happens after that is what happens, I’m not really concerned about that, man. I just want to finish strong with my teammates and then let the business be. I told people that the business part of this thing set in with me when I saw Peyton Manning get released. After I saw that, I was like, ‘Anything can happen.’ Nothing surprises me anymore.”
To some, McCoy hasn’t come close to playing at Warren Sapp’s level despite 54.5 sacks, and has underachieved, failing to produce a double-digit sack season in Tampa Bay despite coming close in 2013 with 9.5 QB captures. His critics suggest that McCoy has not lived up to his first-round draft hype and have complained that he gets hurt too often or doesn’t have enough sack production or big, signature plays in the fourth quarter.
“I know what people say about me,” McCoy said. “I hear things. I don’t read it because I don’t care, but I hear what people say about me. You know – wanting me out of here, or that I’ve lost it, and all this stuff, man. People are going to say what they want. I’m going to always be me, and I’m always going to be a guy that you want on your team, because I’m going to be that selfless person that does what he’s called to do, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Here is a fact that none of McCoy’s critics have likely understood. McCoy is a quick-twitch, one-gap penetrating defensive tackle with tremendous get-off that has only played in a defensive system that truly showcases his talent for about half of his career in Tampa Bay. McCoy’s greatest production didn’t come under Raheem Morris at the start of his career (nine sacks, 10 tackles for loss), but rather under Greg Schiano (14.5 sacks, 24 tackles for loss from 2012-13) and Lovie Smith (17 sacks, 21 tackles for loss from 2014-15) that featured the three-technique defensive tackle position as a penetrator akin to what Sapp did in Tampa Bay from 1996-2003 under former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
McCoy hasn’t been used as effectively in Mike Smith’s defense (19 sacks, 24 tackles for loss from 2016-18), averaging 6.3 sacks over the last three years and eight tackles for loss as opposed to 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss under Schiano and 8.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss under Lovie Smith. In Mike Smith’s defense, especially this year under new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, McCoy and nose tackles Beau Allen and Vea are required to lock up a guard and free up the Bucs linebackers rather than penetrate a gap as McCoy would under Schiano or Lovie Smith.
“There’s so much that people don’t know that goes into a NFL game,” McCoy said. “You see a lot of splash plays around the league – it’s like ‘Well, this guy can’t do this, and this guy’s not capable of that.’ Well, a lot of things people don’t understand is that a guy might just be doing his job, especially in our defense – our D-tackles for sure, our job description in this defense is we’re not going to make a lot of tackles. The TFLs (tackles for loss) and stuff like that – the linebackers are going to make those, the TFLs may come if you get a single reach block or something like that and just so happen to beat it up field. Or if you stunt and knock a guy off, you go get a TFL that way and overlap it. This defense, man, what we’re asked to do inside frees up our edge. It’s not two-gap. As defensive tackles, we’re still attacking, but once you get on your man, you stay on him and it frees up the linebackers. When it’s done right, it works.”
The reality is that in this scheme, McCoy’s talent, which is penetrating with quickness, is not being used to its fullest potential. Mike Smith’s scheme, which Mark Duffner had no choice but to continue running when he took over in Week 7, is built around the play of linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. Yet McCoy, the ultimate teammate, doesn’t complain about his talents being maximized.
“It would be selfish for me to be like, ‘Well, I’m not getting these stats, or I’m not getting that and my numbers are down because of that,’” McCoy said. “Look – in our defense, everybody’s called to do a job. And for me, I try the best to do my job more than go outside the scheme just to try to make a play. This defense is suited for 58 and 54. For me, I’m okay with that because I love those guys, and whatever’s necessary to get it done, I’m going to do that. You’ll never hear me say ‘Oh, well, I’m not getting this, or what about me in this?’ I’ll never say that, because it’s not about me, and I’m going to continue to be that way regardless of what people say.
“I’m not going to because I’m a selfless guy and for me, it’s about everybody around me. You see how Lavonte David’s playing? Greatest joy I’ve had all year is to be able to help him, and Kwon when he was healthy. To see those guys dominate the game the way they did just because I’m doing my job is great. The greatest joy for me is when the man next to me does well. The way the Giants did 90 (Jason Pierre-Paul), then for him to come here and play the way that he’s been playing, that was great for me because I know that the doubles I receive singles him up, and with a guy like that, the last thing you want to do is single up JPP. He’s making people pay for it.”
McCoy’s time in Tampa Bay could very well end with a record that falls between 7-9 and 5-11. In his nine years he’s been to six straight Pro Bowls, should be a lock for the Bucs Ring of Honor and was just named the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year. The biggest disappointment in McCoy’s tenure with the Bucs isn’t that he didn’t produce a double-digit sack season, or have just two winning seasons in Tampa Bay. It’s that he never got the chance to play in a playoff game.
Should McCoy depart this offseason, he leaves a legacy behind of not only some great years playing defensive tackle, but also being a great teammate and mentor to young players. When he arrived full of high expectations as a Top 5 pick in 2010, McCoy didn’t have any veteran leaders along the defensive line to show him the ropes and serve as a role model. Instead, McCoy and fellow rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller had to try to navigate their way through the NFL on their own, which didn’t exactly accelerate their learning curve.
Now McCoy has spent a lot of time this year mentoring Vea and helping to develop this year’s first-round pick in Tampa Bay.
“I didn’t have that opportunity when I came in,” McCoy said. “My second year in the league, Adrian Clayborn came in, but what was I going to teach him? I didn’t even know what I was doing. Yeah at IMG I tried to help him with the little bit that I knew during the [NFL players lock out]. You know I tried. You were there. I was trying, man. That’s just me, that’s who I am. I love it, man. I love helping Vita and just helping guys around me. People always say, ‘You should coach when you’re done,’ No, I’m doing it while I’m in it. Like I said, I’ve been saying it in a lot of my interviews, you start to think about the impact that you had and how people’s lives have changed because you were drafted to the Buccaneers, and that’s all I care about man. Like Vita, hopefully when I’m gone here and my time is up, he says ‘You know what? When I was a rookie we had Gerald McCoy, he really helped me.” Man, that’s success to me.”
To McCoy, who is in the twilight of his career, seeing Vea come on strong down the stretch, as he showed with a dominant, nine-tackle performance in Baltimore last Sunday, is just as rewarding as going to a seventh Pro Bowl.
“Yeah, that’s success to me,” McCoy said. “You know, like that game Vita had and that Lavonte had on Sunday. And then you go back and watch the film and you see what we are doing in the middle. You know you take a guy like Lavonte where even if a lineman gets up on him, it’s hard to stop him, and then you let Lavonte be free the way he’s playing, man, in my opinion he’s the best linebacker in the NFL. People may not agree with that, but I don’t care. I think he’s the best, so when we can do everything that we can to help him because he don’t get the recognition that he deserves, that’s success to me. Obviously, you want the W’s, but to see the way he played and be out a couple games and then what he’s been doing since he’s been back … you see JPP play well, now Vita’s playing well. That’s all I care about, man.”
The FABulous Ending
He won’t know it at the time, and neither will we, but next Sunday when the Bucs face the Falcons at Raymond-James Stadium, McCoy could be running out of Tampa Bay’s tunnel for the last time. If McCoy is traded or released in the offseason it will likely happen in March.
McCoy hasn’t put up the stats that might justify his $12.75 million with six sacks over the last two seasons, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that he doesn’t have value to the Bucs. He might not have been a part of enough winning teams, or made enough difference-making sacks that many expected over the past nine seasons, but what McCoy has done in Tampa Bay is noteworthy. While being one of the best of at his position over the better part of a decade, McCoy has also been a selfless, team-first player that genuinely cares about his teammates, the Bucs organization and the Tampa Bay community with his noteworthy charitable endeavors.
Cheer a little louder for No. 93 next Sunday.