TAMPA, Fla. – Less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut Gerald McCoy, the third overall draft pick in 2010, they signed Ndamukong Suh, the second overall pick that season and the one player aside from Warren Sapp whose shadow McCoy has always seemed to chase. (Editor's note: The Bucs reached agreement with Suh on a one-year, $9.25 million deal, according to Adam Schefter.)
McCoy’s critics said he wasn’t nasty enough, needed to be less "finesse" and more disruptive, and he smiled too much, even after he accumulated more Pro Bowl selections (six compared to Suh’s five) and almost identical sack numbers (54.5 sacks in 123 career games compared to Suh’s 56 sacks in 142 career games).
The Bucs now have Suh, and not McCoy. At what cost?
Schematically, the move makes sense. Suh can immediately occupy McCoy’s three-technique position and can still be disruptive at age 32. He played in a similar system last year under Wade Phillips with the Los Angeles Rams.
Suh beat his block within 2.5 seconds on 19 percent of pass-rushes last season, which ranked 66th out of 91 pass-rushers with 300-plus rushes (including playoffs), according to NFL Next Gen Stats. McCoy beat his block within 2.5 seconds on 22 percent of pass rushes last season, which ranked 54th out of 91 pass-rushers with 300-plus rushes.
Suh also has a reputation of going against everything the Bucs have been trying to build in their locker room from a culture standpoint. Suh's reputation as a dirty player and questionable teammate is well documented. General manager Jason Licht has acknowledged publicly that the Bucs have needed to do a better job of vetting players in terms of personality.
“The players I’ve missed on haven’t been the player. It’s been the person,” Licht said at last year’s NFL combine.
He also has talked about the importance of players with strong character and “strong football character.”
You appreciate the honesty, but with that line of thinking, Suh perhaps shouldn't have been on the Bucs' short list. The Bucs certainly wouldn't have made the move if he'll make as much as McCoy would have, but is saving a few million truly worth it when it includes a major headache?
Suh was once suspended two games for stomping on former Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Evan Smith, who is now with the Bucs. How will that go over? The only way this works is by having a coach like Bruce Arians -- who once had a gun pulled on him as a bartender in college -- with a strong enough personality to manage the Bucs' personalities.
It’s a one-year deal for a 32-year-old player who has played in 16 games every year the past seven seasons and immediately fills a huge need. But don’t expect him to mentor Vita Vea or stay after practice helping Noah Spence with pass-rush moves or go on mountain-climbing expeditions with Beau Allen. He wasn’t welcomed back with the Rams for a reason. He doesn’t jibe with their current group.
Granted, McCoy had his own flaws. He’d bask in the attention provided by the "Hard Knocks" television crews before asking reporters to refrain from “negative questions” despite a losing record that warranted such questioning. That rubbed some folks the wrong way.
The truth of the matter is, McCoy wore his heart on his sleeve -- and it was a big one, as seen by the work of his Patricia Diane Foundation to help single parents -- but the losing got to be too much, which is why he didn’t speak to the media for several weeks this year. He cared very much about his team and the Tampa Bay community, and he had to endure a lot of losing and even some organizational incompetence along the way. Can you blame him for his unwillingness to give the Bucs a hometown discount when he has been one of their few sources of pride over the past 10 years?
The organization should have done McCoy a solid by cutting ties in March, when it was clear that they didn’t think he was worth $13 million, that there were no takers on a trade and that they wouldn’t have the cap room to pay him. It would have allowed him the opportunity to sign with a contender who could properly compensate him, instead of keeping him in limbo the entire spring.
This is an organization that has botched several farewells over the years, from Doug Williams to Derrick Brooks, and it seems like they still haven’t learned. Make no mistake about it, this wasn’t an easy choice for the Bucs. As one staff member said today, McCoy will likely have a key to the building one day, and possibly even the city. He’s also as strong as any candidate to eventually go into the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor. But it didn’t have to end this way for McCoy.
And with Suh? This seemed like a desperation move. If this winds up being an abysmal failure, at least they can go back to the drawing board in a year.