What if I told you the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would get a defensive tackle from the 2010 NFL Draft, pair him with another young defensive tackle later on and return to the post-season as a result of doing so? Would you be happy?
This is exactly what could happen if the Bucs do indeed move on from veteran defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and sign veteran free-agent Ndamukong Suh.
Now, it’s likely some of you have stopped reading by now and just scrolled straight to the comments. But for those of you who are still reading let me premise what follows by saying this, I’m not necessarily recommending this happens, I’m saying it could happen regardless of what anyone likes or dislikes about it and I’m going to attempt here not to convince you but to help you (and me in the process) understand.
Ok. Like most everybody, the first question I had when this idea was first inserted into my brain was: What about the cap?
It’s a good question. But that’s not the first question I want to talk about. I want to talk production.
Over the past two seasons Suh has played in three more regular season games and three more post-season games than McCoy. In those, Suh has 107 total tackles while McCoy has 75, and McCoy had twelve sacks compared to Suh’s nine.
Suh also had two forced fumbles and recoveries while McCoy had none. Suh has stopped ball carriers in the backfield thirteen times over the past two seasons, while McCoy has done so nineteen times.
Quarterbacks were hit by McCoy 45 times in addition to his nine sacks in 2017 and 2018, while quarterbacks were hit 31 times over the same span by Suh.
I don’t know guys, seems like a push to me. Which is interesting because in 2010 it was considered risky business drafting a defensive tackle as high as the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both did with picks two and three respectively. Yet, both have had relatively successful individual careers while one has stayed with the team who drafted him and the other is expected to play for his fourth team in 2019.
There’s one more category of production we need to address though, and that’s penalties. Suh developed a reputation fairly early in his career as a dirty player. He had eleven penalties as a rookie, and seven of them involved him being overly aggressive or stepping over physical restrictions placed by the league. Only three were pre-snap penalties (encroachment, neutral zone infraction and defensive offside).
In contrast, McCoy committed just four penalties his rookie season and only one was of a physical nature (unnecessary roughness against Atlanta in December of 2010).
While Suh spun into the ‘dirty player’ character, McCoy was busy often times being the best part of a bad situation. Some good seasons, albeit not playoff seasons, were sprinkled in here and there, but largely McCoy’s time has been spent vacationing while others - including Suh - were chasing post-season opportunities.
In fact, while McCoy is still searching for his first taste of January football in the NFL, Suh has appeared in six contests (two with Detroit, one with the Miami Dolphins and three with the Rams in the 2018-19 season).
Back to the penalties, Suh has calmed down as of late being flagged eight times in the 2018 season with three of those being pre-snap penalties and two coming by way of roughing the passer infractions.
But it’s interesting, because these penalties, while a detractor for some are also part of the reason he may be attractive to the new look Buccaneers defense. He’s aggressive. And hungry.
While Suh has had the dirty label slapped on him since nearly the beginning of his career, McCoy had a label slapped on him too: Soft.
Now, it came in many versions. Complaints about his smiling during losses or post game. Helping opposing players up, again smiling and being cordial with them during the games as well. Not seeming mad enough about losses and struggles. Not being aggressive enough.
Bu the bottom line is, every time he was criticized for one of these things, he was being told he wasn’t being mean enough. Meanwhile his draft classmate was being too mean. Kind of a three bears type of situation.
Well, with aggression comes penalties from time-to-time. They’re two things that go together in the patterns of athletics.
Does all of what we’ve discussed so far combined with the apparent revelation McCoy simply doesn’t want to play in Tampa anymore, paired with the apparent truth the coaching staff is co-signing the sentiment, lead to anyone thinking signing Suh is a good idea? If it does then we can step through the next door enter the seventh layer of NFL hell, also known as: The Salary Cap.
Let’s talk about money. According to the NFL Players Association salary cap report, the Bucs currently sit at around $1.7M in cap space with money still owed to draft picks Devin White, Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards meaning the team is operating with a deficit of about $6M.
So, removing McCoy’s $13M which is what the team is expected to do shortly - or not shortly, who knows at this point - would give them about $6-7M in remaining space after inking their still unsigned draft picks give or take some money after they carry the one, split the dividend of the previously guaranteed money, account for the windspeed coming out of the northwest, divide by the stipulations of the collective bargaining agreement nobody actually understands but lawyers pretend they do, multiply by the blades of grass eaten by the average NFL lineman on a yearly basis, remind everyone Jason Licht once drafted Roberto Aguayo, and then carry the one, just one last time and voila! you have a salary cap number.
Now, we’re already almost 1,000 words into this, so I’m not going to bore you with a whole slew of details, but let’s just say the Bucs could easily and justifiably clear another $5-7M in cuts if certain non-rookies and non-marquee players don’t show up and show out in mini-camps or early in training camp. And no I’m not talking about Vernon Hargreaves.
This means, with some neat math and potentially predictable moves, the team could clear up to or close to the projected $10M many think Suh is going to want or is asking for.
Of course, the team may not even need to pay him $10M depending on Suh’s priorities. He’s older now, a little bit wiser, and usually players in his situation covet security a bit more than they do anything else.
If Licht and company were to offer him, say $20M over two years with seven of it fully guaranteed this season and seven fully guaranteed next year, then the Bucs could get Suh for the seven this year and save six next year if it doesn’t work out.
With north of $34M in cap space for 2020 (according to spotrac.com) - before considering the $12.5M Tampa Bay saves in 2020 by cutting or trading McCoy - and only Jameis Winston expected to fully break the bank next year, swallowing $7M for Suh next year is a bit easier to do if needed. Paying him the balance of the $13M is simple if the defense pans out (cue gasp and anger because I just insinuated the Bucs could possibly pay Suh more than they’d pay McCoy in 2020 under current contract stipulations).
And don’t worry, even if they kept Suh and still had to pay Winston the $20M or so he’d get in a new deal, the team would still be left with money and options to clear even more space if needed and justified - this time I am talking about Hargreaves, among others.
Whew! Man, that’s a lot of stuff to digest. I’m not saying it’s going to happen. But I’m saying it’s a possibility. And honestly, I’d welcome it.
Suh was the best defensive tackle in a traditionally over drafted defensive tackle duo in 2010. Back then, Tampa Bay drafted McCoy possibly because they wanted him more, but most likely because he was the best available. Then they tried to pair him with another defensive tackle by drafting Brian Price.
What if the Bucs could now get the defensive tackle they probably wanted anyway in Suh, and pair him with another young recently drafted defensive tackle in Vita Vea? Well, it just might help the team make it back to the post-season, which is what the team thought they were on the verge of doing when they drafted McCoy in the first place.
Oh, and 2010 Buccaneers draft pick Cody Grimm is back on the team now (as a coach), so it kind of ads another layer to the whole 2010 draft class coming back to make it’s mark on this season.
Assuming McCoy is gone, and the Bucs can make the money work, do you want Ndamukong Suh?
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