The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have (re-)opened contract negotiations with star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The two parties may prefer to wait for Ndamukong Suh and the Lions to set a precedent for a new contract, but at some point they're just going to have to get it done. With McCoy entering the final year of his contract, the Bucs can't run the risk of letting their best player at the most important position in their defense walk away in free agency.
After a slow, injury-marred start to his career, McCoy has turned into the best three-technique defensive tackle in the NFL, with Geno Atkins his only real competition for that title. The Bucs' best player led the NFL in pressures last season, according to Pro Football Focus' charting, and had he played on a better defense, would have been a realistic candidate for the title of Defensive Player of the Year. He was named a first-team All-Pro and was elected to his second Pro Bowl in as many injury-free seasons this past year.
Lovie Smith called extending the defensive tackle's contract "very important" at the NFL owners' meetings in March, and has consistently praised McCoy throughout the offseason. He won't leave Tampa any time soon, and the Bucs will get a contract done -- the question is just how expensive that will be.
Projecting McCoy's contract value
McCoy is currently the second-highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL, behind only Ndamukong Suh. Both of them entered the NFL in 2010, the last year in which the highest drafted players still received exorbitant contracts, the hallmark of the previous CBA. McCoy signed a five-year, $55 million contract with some $21 million in guaranteed money in 2010, and he'll no doubt want to top that number after his performance the past two seasons. He's set to make $12,7 million this year, with a cap hit of nearly $16 million.
Complicating matters is the fact that no highly productive defensive tackle has been allowed to hit free agency in the prime of his career in quite some time. The Buccaneers can't rely on using the franchise tag to keep him in Tampa in 2014, as that would mean paying him 120% of his 2013 cap number: an ungainly sum of $18.7 million.
Geno Atkins received a five-year $54.75 million extension with $15 million in guaranteed money, but that came with one very cheap year left on his contract, leaving the Bengals the option of using the franchise tag on him in 2014 at what turned out to be $9.7 million. Those two factors pushed down his contract value, and McCoy, will want to see a better deal than that.
We could also look at Richard Seymour's deal with the Oakland Raiders. Seymour signed an astronomical two-year, $30 million contract in Oakland at the age of 31, including $22.5 million in guaranteed money. That's an absurd number, and Oakland's contracts at the time can't really be seen as a true benchmark, but they do suggest that a first-team All-Pro defensive tackle at age 26 should get closer to $15 million per year than Atkins' $11 million per year.
One final benchmark might be Mario Williams' six-year, $100 million contract he signed in 2012 with the Buffalo Bills. That\s $16 million per year for a very good defensive end, but hardly the best player at his position in the NFL. That deal included a total of $50 million in partial guarantees, with $25 million fully guaranteed.
Given McCoy's youth, the fact that his remaining year under contract is already expensive, and the fact that he's both the best player at his position, and the best player the Bucs have on their roster, I'd expect McCoy to come perilously close to Mario Williams' contract.
Final estimate: Five-year, $75 million extension (running through 2019), including $30 million in fully guaranteed money.