Gerald McCoy has turned into a superstar over the past two seasons. With two Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro awards (one from AP, one from the PFWA) and 14.5 sacks over two years with little help and in a scheme that limited his production, McCoy has turned into the top three-technique defensive tackle in the league.
Fortunately for him, he's getting paid like it. McCoy is still on his rookie contract, which was one of the old CBA deals which paid high draft picks very handsomely. He's scheduled to earn $12.732 million next season after hitting performance-based parameters in his contract, although Brian McIntyre isn't entirely sure he hit all of them. Even if that isn't the case, he'd earn $10.295 million.
That's a lot of money, but there's nothing wrong with paying your good players a lot of cash. The issue it creates is one of franchise tags. McCoy is scheduled to be a free agent in 2015, and if the Bucs were to tag him it would cost them 120% of his 2014 salary cap hit. That cap hit would be over $15 million, per McIntyre, which would mean a franchise tag in 2015 would cost the team over $18 million. For comparison's sake, the top contract awarded to a defensive tackle over the past years was Geno Atkins' contract, which averages just over $10.5 million per year.
And that is why the Buccaneers need to start talking contract extensions with McCoy right now: so they won't get stuck with a horrible negotiation position in talking contract with McCoy in 2015. Not that their position is exceptionally strong right now, but they should be able to get McCoy signed on a $11-$12 million per year similar to Atkins' contract. That price would go up substantially if they were forced to franchise him and he'd be guaranteed $18 million for one year's play.
There's no real danger of losing McCoy to free agency, at least. He's too good of a player and too crucial to Lovie Smith's defensive schemes to be allowed to walk away, not to mention the fact that he's the undisputed leader of this defense. But the Buccaneers do need to make sure his cap hits don't cripple a team that is very fond of spending big bucks on good players.