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Free Agent Spotlight: Defensive Lineman, Gerald McCoy

The longtime Buccaneer is once again a free agent. Could he come back home and finally taste playoff football for the first time?

With the 2021 NFL offseason now in full swing, dominoes are starting to fall into place for the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. Earlier this week, they announced their decision to franchise tag Chris Godwin. Then, that same day, they agreed to terms on a new contract for longtime defensive captain Lavonte David. And with the 2021 salary cap now officially set, Jason Licht, Mike Greenberg and their staff know exactly what they have to work with in the coming weeks and months.

Of course, the focus between now and the start of the new league year will be on contract talks with free agents from the 2020 championship team. Shaquil Barrett is the big one, but the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Ndamukong Suh are also expected to come back for another run at the Lombardi Trophy.

So, by the time the free agency frenzy begins league-wide next week, what will Tampa Bay be up to? Even with cap-saving moves that are expected to be made, the number of pending free agents that the team wants to bring back means there probably won’t be a ton of space to add many newcomers to the mix. More than likely, the Bucs will be looking for depth.

Could the team look to a familiar face to provide that depth? We know at least one side is interested, so let’s break this down, shall we? As our free agent spotlight series rolls on today, let’s shine a spotlight on longtime Buccaneer defensive lineman Gerald McCoy. Is there a case to be made for a reunion?

Gerald McCoy’s Career Thus Far

2010 NFL Draft Round 1 Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

After college career at Oklahoma that saw him named the 2007 Big 12 Freshman of the Year, a two-time All-Big 12 selection and a two-time All-American, McCoy was drafted by the Buccaneers with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. He quickly became a staple of the Tampa Bay defense, forcing a fumble in his NFL debut before going on to finish the 2010 season with three sacks, 12 quarterback hits, seven tackles for loss, five passes defended and two forced fumbles in 13 games. A torn left biceps landed him on injured reserve at the end of the season, but it was still a successful debut season for the Bucs’ new No. 93.

McCoy was limited by injuries in 2011, but he broke out in 2012. He started all 16 of the team’s games and totaled five sacks, 15 quarterback hits, nine tackles for loss, two passes defended, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. That type of performance earned him his first of six straight Pro Bowl selections. In 2013, he earned his second Pro Bowl selection and his first All-Pro nod thanks to his 9.5 sacks, 21 quarterback hits and 15 tackles for loss. He was also ranked by Pro Football Focus as that season’s top defensive tackle.

Despite missing at least one game in each of the next four seasons, McCoy continued his run of Pro Bowl selections in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. He put up 8.5 sacks in both 2014 and 2015, then totaled seven and six in the next two years. In 2018, which turned out to be his final season with the Bucs, he missed out on the Pro Bowl despite posting six sacks and 21 quarterback hits.

After Bruce Arians and his coaching staff arrived early in 2019, McCoy was released to save the team some cap space. He signed a one-year deal with the division rival Panthers for that season, a season in which he finished with five sacks and 13 quarterback hits. Perhaps fittingly, 2.5 of those five sacks came against Tampa Bay in London. After his season in Carolina, McCoy signed a three-year deal with the Cowboys. Unfortunately, though, a ruptured quadriceps ended his season before it began. He was then released by Dallas.

During his nine years with the Bucs, McCoy put together quite the resume. He ranks third in franchise history with 54.5 sacks and is No. 15 in team history with 123 games played. A six-time Pro Bowler and an all-around good guy in the Tampa Bay community, he was a fan favorite to many. Others within the Buccaneer fan base, however, derided him constantly because he was “too nice” or “too soft.” In fact, many still hold ill-will toward him to this day... for some reason. Nonetheless, McCoy was one of the faces of the franchise for nine years and holds a special place in Buccaneer history.

Why It Works

The Bucs are obviously plenty familiar with McCoy and they could use a player of his caliber in what is a suddenly thin defensive line group. Even assuming that Ndamukong Suh returns, Steve McLendon and Rakeem Nunez-Roches are also free agents. The team did tender the contracts for Jeremiah Ledbetter and Patrick O’Connor, who were exclusive rights free agents, but there is a definite need for depth along the defensive line. Suh and William Gholston have a lot of mileage on their bodies, so having another productive rotational 3-4 defensive end certainly wouldn’t hurt. But is McCoy a fit for Tampa Bay’s scheme?

Despite playing three-technique during his time as a Buc, McCoy did play defensive end in the Panthers’ 3-4 scheme back in 2019. He played it pretty effectively, too, which would seem to indicate that he would work well in Todd Bowles’ defense. Plus, it’s not so hard to see the 33-year-old veteran as a rotational piece considering he missed the entire 2020 season with an injury. As his career winds down and he looks to be part of a playoff team for the first time in his career, he could be a great fit as a role-type player on Tampa Bay’s defense.

Of course, McCoy said just a few days ago that he would love to return to Tampa. The fit feels like it’s there. But will there be interest on the Bucs’ side of things?

But...

There are a couple of questions about a potential McCoy/Tampa Bay reunion, although one is far bigger than the other. The first, smaller question is on the relationship side of things. When the Bucs released McCoy in 2019, there seemed to be some hard feelings. He talked publicly about feeling disrespected by the organization and appeared to feel especially slighted when the team signed Suh and gave him the No. 93 jersey that McCoy wore for nine years. It appeared to be a bad breakup between McCoy and the Bucs.

However, when talking about his relationship with the team earlier this week, McCoy had this to say:

“I would love to go back to Tampa. A lot of people had, they kind of misunderstood what took place between me and Tampa. They think it was, ‘Well, he left,’ or ‘Tampa released him.’ Nah, there was more to it than that. All the issues or whatever that I had with Tampa, we worked out last season when I was with Carolina.”

He continued:

“Let me kill this narrative right now. I did not go to the Carolina Panthers to get back at Tampa. If anybody thinks that football means that much to me that I would make a life decision based off trying to get back at an organization, they don’t know me. So, I didn’t go to Carolina to get back at Tampa, it had nothing to do with my decision, and there’s no bad blood. I talked to Jason Licht, I talked to the Glazers, I text all my teammates, I text these guys all the time, especially after they win. And then when they won the Super Bowl, I was really excited for those guys.”

It seems like any issues between the two parties are gone, at least from McCoy’s point of view. That’s not hard to believe when you consider McCoy was actively rooting for the Bucs on Twitter during their Super Bowl run. So, that’s why this feels like less of an obstacle in the way of a reunion and more like an awkward bump in the road.

The other, bigger question centers on the Cowboys. They signed McCoy to a three-year deal in 2020 and ended up releasing him due to an injury waiver clause in his contract. As a result, he’s now a free agent. But it’s been reported that McCoy is a part of Dallas’ plans going forward. So, will Jerry Jones break out a check big enough to keep the 2010 first-round pick in Texas? As much as McCoy may welcome a potential return to the Bay, a bigger contract and a larger role may be too difficult to pass up.

What’s The Cost?

Given that he hasn’t played since 2019, McCoy shouldn’t be all that expensive this offseason. His 2019 deal with the Panthers was for one year at $8 million, then he signed that three-year, $18.3 million contract with the Cowboys last year. His AAV went down almost $2 million from 2019 to 2020, then he missed all of 2020 with an injury. That, plus the fact that he’s 33 years old and has played a full 16-game season just once (2019) since he turned 26 could come at a bargain. Not to mention, deciding where to sign for 2021 may be more about fit and comfort than money. McCoy has made his money in the NFL and at 33, he’s running out of chances to get a taste of the postseason.

What We Don’t Know

The Cowboys are the wild card in this potential reunion between the Bucs and McCoy. Dallas seems interested in having the big defensive lineman back and McCoy would surely have interest in returning to actually play there as well. If the Cowboys, who are in a better cap situation than the Bucs are, want McCoy back, it’s not hard to see that happening. At the same time, of course, we don’t know if Tampa Bay would even want to bring back its longtime captain. While the decision to release him in 2019 was largely about the cap hit, the team likely could have made it work if the coaches wanted to keep McCoy around. So, while we know McCoy is interested in coming back, we don’t know if the Bucs have any interest in that happening.

Make The Decision

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

It’s not hard to predict how this is going to go, but it’s time for you to give your thoughts, Bucs Nation. Would you like to see McCoy back in Tampa as the team goes for two? Let us know what you think by voting in our poll and discussing your opinion (civilly) in the comments down below.

Poll

When it comes to Gerald McCoy, what would you have the Buccaneers do?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Sign him no matter what
    (26 votes)
  • 46%
    Make an offer, but keep it reasonable
    (281 votes)
  • 19%
    Invite him for a cup of coffee and see where it goes from there
    (117 votes)
  • 15%
    Call him up if they have a need after the draft
    (95 votes)
  • 13%
    Don’t need him
    (84 votes)
603 votes total Vote Now
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