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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. Suh Brings A Needed Edge To Bucs Defense
It was tempting.
New Bucs general manager Jason Licht thought about it back in 2014.
What if he didn’t re-sign Gerald McCoy and allowed McCoy to hit free agency and pursued Ndamukong Suh? Both were good players, but Suh had a real edge about him – more of an edge than McCoy did.
At the time, the Bucs defense had two good players on it – McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. Letting McCoy go in free agency was a risk because there was no guarantee that the Bucs, who were in the midst of a 2-14 season, could lure Suh to Tampa Bay in March of 2015. There was also a chance that Suh could get re-signed by Detroit and never hit free agency.
Letting McCoy, who at the time was the face of the Bucs defense and a vital cog in Lovie Smith’s defense as the three-technique tackle, get away in free agency and not land Suh was a risk that a first-year general manager couldn’t afford to take at the time. Licht was just getting his feet wet in that role, and McCoy had shown a willingness to re-sign with Tampa Bay during the 2014 season and avoid free agency. Lovie Smith’s Tampa Bay defense needed a stud three-technique
McCoy was going to come cheaper because of the timing in October. Waiting until March and letting Suh and McCoy, former first-round picks in 2010, hit the market at the same time could trigger a bidding war among teams for their services that would drive both of their price tags much higher – and leave Tampa Bay without either one.
Licht loved the edge and nastiness that Suh played with, but he took the safer route and re-signed McCoy to a six-year, $95.2 million contract extension on October 25, 2014 with $51 million in guaranteed money and an average salary of nearly $15.9 million per year. Suh wound up signing a six-year, $114.375 million deal with Miami on March 8, 2015 before moving on to Los Angeles last year on a one-year, $14 million deal while helping get the Rams to the Super Bowl.
Ten years after general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris just missed out on Suh, and five years after Licht didn’t risk swapping out McCoy for Suh, the Buccaneers finally land their man.
Suh is finally a Buccaneer, signing a one-year deal worth $9.25 million that can increase to $10 million with incentives.
McCoy did a lot right in Tampa Bay and had a Bucs career on and off the field that he, the team and its fans should be proud of. McCoy was a model citizen, a great role model and teammate, a leader on the defense for a while and an outstanding citizen in the Tampa Bay area. He finished his career with 54.5 sacks, which ranks fourth all-time in Bucs history behind Hall of Famers Lee Roy Selmon (78.5) and Warren Sapp (77) and defensive end Simeon Rice (69.5).
But despite the fact that he made six Pro Bowls, McCoy played on just two winning teams – a 10-6 squad in 2010 and a 9-7 team in 2016 – in Tampa Bay, and that too will be part of his legacy. Football is the ultimate team sport, and one man alone can’t turn a franchise into a playoff team.
McCoy certainly tried to reach the postseason during his nine years with the Bucs. He was always in shape, always striving for wins and always craving a playoff appearance and a shot at the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay. Yet should McCoy make the Bucs Ring of Honor, he will be the only inductee that has not been a part of a playoff team during his time in Tampa Bay.
McCoy had his detractors in the Bucs fan base and also some at One Buccaneer Place. It’s worth noting that McCoy wasn’t voted as a team captain last year for the first time since he took on that honor early in his career.
After a generation of Tampa Bay fans saw the ferociousness with which Sapp played the game and led a bad ass defense to the playoffs again and again – and ultimately to a Super Bowl – McCoy, with his ever-present smile and friendly demeanor, could not live up to those lofty expectations, especially entering the league as the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
While Sapp was a legend in Tampa Bay, McCoy was just merely very good – or great, depending on how you define the word “great.” McCoy’s critics moaned that he never really took over games, that he smiled and shook hands with the enemy immediately after losses, and that he helped quarterbacks up after sacking them, and was even caught apologizing to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the act of hitting him on Monday Night Football last year when McCoy was mic’d up.
Selmon was a similar gentleman on and off the field, but could get away with it because he was simply a much better player than McCoy was – a Hall of Famer in fact.
Make no mistake. Suh is no gentleman on the field.
The Nebraska star had racked up $216,875 in fines by the league for four violations in the first four years and that total has climbed to over $600,000 after nine seasons. He’s viewed as one of the league’s dirtiest players – the exact opposite of McCoy’s nice guy image.
The name “Ndamukong” in its native Cameroon, and means “house of spears.”
Suh’s play on the field is as ferocious as the meaning of his first name. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s a better run defender than McCoy, and their pass rushing ability is about even. Suh only had 4.5 sacks last year compared to McCoy’s six, but Suh was playing the five-technique defensive tackle spot and nose tackle, while All-Pro Aaron Donald received the bulk of one-on-ones with guards as the three-technique defensive tackle in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 Under defense.
New Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles deploys a similar 3-4 defensive scheme and Suh will replace McCoy as the three-technique defensive tackle and have more favorable pass-rushing opportunities more often than he did in his lone year with the Rams last year.
He will likely take on McCoy’s No. 93, which will irk some of McCoy’s fans.
Keep in mind that the only sacred jerseys within the Bucs franchise are Selmon’s No. 63, Sapp’s No. 99, Derrick Brooks’ No. 55, Ronde Barber’s No. 20, John Lynch’s No. 47 and Mike Alstott’s No. 40. The jersey numbers of Simeon Rice (No. 97) and Hardy Nickerson (No. 56), who accomplished more in Tampa Bay than McCoy did, were given out to new Buccaneers after their departure, too.
It will be interesting to see where McCoy lands and for how much money. Bucs fans undoubtedly will be comparing the play of Suh with that of McCoy all year long to gauge whether Licht made the right move.
Of the two, Suh has always had the upper hand with the exception of one more Pro Bowl berth by McCoy during their NFL careers. In his final year at Nebraska, Suh won the Outland Trophy, the Lombardi Award, the Bronko Nagurski Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award and the AP Player of the Year honors.
McCoy didn’t even win Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 – Suh did. About the only thing Suh didn’t win that year was the Heisman Trophy.
Suh got drafted one spot ahead of McCoy, and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2010. Suh has made over $24 million more than McCoy over the last nine years, and has been to a place than McCoy has only dreamed of – the playoffs.
With the original “no risk it, no biscuit” man – Bruce Arians – now at One Buccaneer Place and giving Licht his blessing, the Bucs are risking that Suh will be an upgrade over McCoy, in addition to saving a few million worth of salary cap space. We’ll see if it pans out.
Among the many factors that come along with Suh making his way to Tampa Bay on a one-year deal, Licht is counting on the edgy style of play that Suh brings to the Buccaneers to maintain his own slight edge over McCoy as the better defensive tackle between the two stars from the 2010 NFL Draft class.