The report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter suggesting that Bucs outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul suffered a fracture in his neck from a single car accident last week in South Florida has set off panic within the Tampa Bay fan base.
And justifiably so if Pierre-Paul needs neck surgery and does indeed miss the season to recover, as the reports suggests could happen.
The Bucs declined to comment in detail on the report, with general manager Jason Licht saying this in a press released on Tuesday afternoon: “As we stated last week following the news of Jason’s auto accident, our immediate concern was for both Jason and his passenger. While Jason was treated and released in south Florida the same day of the accident, we wanted to ensure that our medical team had an opportunity to perform a thorough evaluation here in Tampa, and that process is currently ongoing.”
Even if Pierre-Paul’s neck injury doesn’t require surgery, training camp is just over two months away and the start of the 2019 season begins in four months. It’s said that playing in an NFL game is the equivalent of being in a car wreck with all of the physical punishment dished out and endured on Sundays, and the helmet-to-helmet collisions that occur.
So if playing in an NFL season is the equivalent of being in 16 car crashes. It’s hard to imagine that Pierre-Paul wouldn’t have some complications with his neck injury at some point during the season – even if he didn’t need surgery and was cleared to play by the start of the year after missing training camp. And if he were cleared to play, how effective would the Bucs’ leading sacker from a year ago actually be?
Would he be able to post 12.5 sacks again or come close to double-digits while recovering from his neck injury – let alone neck surgery? That’s hard to imagine right now if Schefter’s report is valid.
The first knee-jerk reaction some Bucs fans might have about JPP’s injury would be to suggest that Tampa Bay should have drafted Kentucky outside linebacker Josh Allen instead of LSU inside linebacker Devin White with the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Those that preferred Allen over White to begin with will be having some “See? I told you so!” moments right now.
The Bucs still made the right call with White, and his ability to blitz up the middle should help create some of the pass rush production that would be missing in a possible season without JPP.
The next reaction by some would be to plead with the team to keep defensive tackle Gerald McCoy for a 10th season, given that he led the Bucs with 21 QB hits and chipped in six sacks, which matched his total from the previous year.
That would be a wise move indeed, as a team can’t have enough veteran pass rushers.
Some have grown frustrated over the team’s supposed indecision about whether or not to keep McCoy, as Tampa Bay has reportedly tried to trade him this offseason with his age (31) and salary cap number ($13 million) being the barriers that have proven impossible to overcome and strike a deal. Yes, keeping a six-time Pro Bowler and last year’s Tampa Bay Man of the Year in limbo was not ideal, but there is a reason that the Bucs have held on to him for this long.
Exhibit A: Jason Pierre-Paul’s neck injury.
Thank goodness the Bucs didn’t cut McCoy earlier and still have the option of keeping him on their 2019 roster at their disposal.
Some have criticized the team for not treating McCoy fairly by not cutting him earlier and giving him the opportunity to latch on with another team or even maximize his value in the first wave of free agency.
Licht’s job is not to look out for McCoy’s best interests – or the interests of any one player. Football is a team sport.
His job as general manager is to look out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ best interests.
If that means mending fences now and rebuilding a bridge for McCoy to return in light of Pierre-Paul’s injury, then so be it. McCoy,who has been working out independently with trainer Todd Durkin as he has in years past, appears to be fired up about the supposed disrespect he’s felt from the Bucs this offseason and posted a video speaking out about it – without mentioning the Bucs by name – on his Instagram account on Sunday.
A motivated and fired up McCoy with an obvious chip on his shoulder might be the best thing for the Buccaneers this year in lieu of Pierre-Paul’s bad neck.
At no point in time has either Licht or head coach Bruce Arians actually said that McCoy wasn’t wanted in Tampa Bay this year. Some of their indecisive comments, including Arians questioning whether or not McCoy still had the fire to play entering his 10th season, certainly paint the picture that the Bucs were prepared to move on from McCoy this year and were considering it. And McCoy has a right to be upset at them about that.
But Arians even said at the pre-draft mini-camp that they would welcome McCoy to the team’s offseason program with open arms. The door has never been shut on McCoy returning to Tampa Bay in 2019, and in the end, the Bucs might be fortunate to have it all play out this way given Pierre-Paul’s recent neck injury.
Where the Bucs will miss Pierre-Paul is not just rushing off the edge in a 3-4 or a 4-3 front, but also rushing inside at defensive tackle in a four-man line in nickel pass rush situations, which Tampa Bay will be in about 65 percent of the time. Putting McCoy next to Vita Vea flanked by Shaquil Barrett and Carl Nassib would be an ideal solution to the problem that JPP’s absence would create.
The Bucs would certainly miss Pierre-Paul’s presence this year if he cannot play, but Licht’s addition of Barrett in free agency, and fourth-round pick Anthony Nelson, who can play defensive end and outside linebacker, should help soften the blow somewhat.
Nelson is an improving pass rusher, who recorded 23 sacks in three years at Iowa, including a career-high 9.5 last year. Barrett had 14 career sacks and seven forced fumbles in four seasons in Denver. Barrett and Nassib, who had a career-high 6.5 sacks last season, will both be playing in contract years, in addition to Noah Spence, a former second-round pick in 2016, who had 5.5 sacks as a rookie, and is looking for a career rebirth as an outside linebacker this season in Todd Bowles’ defense.
Having Pierre-Paul would certainly make Tampa Bay’s edge rush even better, but the cupboard isn’t bare, and it’s worth noting that Licht added Nassib off waivers last September, and will undoubtedly be looking for help at outside linebacker/defensive end all the way through roster cut-downs in September if JPP ends up missing the season.
While the Bucs could use McCoy’s $13 million off the books to help the team sign its draft picks and add other players, it’s not like parting ways with McCoy would be the only way that could occur. Director of football administration Mike Greenberg, the Bucs’ capologist, could clear over $10 million in 2019 cap space by going to Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans and converting half of his $20 million into a signing bonus tomorrow if necessary.
Instead of his cap space, the Bucs could use McCoy’s ability to get to the quarterback even more right now under these circumstances. Although he’s always favored Batman when it comes to superheroes, the Bucs would probably prefer McCoy return to Tampa Bay mean and green and ready for some “Hulk smash!” this year without JPP.
McCoy has always loved superheroes, and now he could actually play one in red and pewter this year.
McCoy never wanted to leave Tampa Bay in the first place, and has always wanted to help the Bucs turn the corner and finally make the playoffs during his decade here. Perhaps fate will afford McCoy one more opportunity to try to make that happen in 2019, and he’ll be handsomely rewarded with $13 million for doing so.
If Pierre-Paul can’t play this year, it could be McCoy to the rescue for the Buccaneers.