TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers new defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul fought back tears Friday when he was asked about the fireworks explosion in 2015 that severely mangled his right hand and nearly ended his career.
"Sorry, I get emotional when I talk about my injury. Sorry," he said, removing his glasses and wiping his eyes. "My injury -- what I learned from my injury was that I'm unstoppable, man. I thank my dad for that because my dad, he's been blind for 29 years, and he never complained, not once. From that, I know I'm unstoppable. It's going to take a helluva lot for me to get off that damn field ... sorry for cussing. So basically that's what it is."
The Bucs traded away a third-round draft pick and swapped fourth-round picks with the Giants to acquire Pierre-Paul, who stormed into the league with 16.5 sacks in 2011 and was primed to land a huge extension after a 12.5-sack season in 2014. Then the accident happened, resulting in the amputation of his index finger.
"I'll tell you what: Being at your highest peak in the NFL, about to get a big contract and you think everything is to the top and I'm at the top of my game, about to be a free agent and something like that happened -- unfortunately it happened -- it's kind of sad. But at the same time, like I always say, I never, ever doubted myself that I would not play football again. I returned back, and I had one goal. One goal was I'm not missing a season, and I came back and actually finished that season."
As fate would have it, Pierre-Paul's first game back was in Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium, also home to the University of South Florida Bulls. That's where a breakout season in 2009 put him on a path to become the 15th overall draft pick by the Giants in 2010. In his return against the Bucs, he had two tackles, two quarterback hits and four pressures as the Giants won 32-18.
"I did pretty well against y'all," Pierre-Paul said to general manager Jason Licht with a chuckle. "Like I said, from that point I just knew that nobody [could] really touch me when it comes to this sport. In order for me to not play this sport, you've got to take both of my legs, and even then I'll still try to find a way to play."
Licht discussed Pierre-Paul with Giants general manager Dave Gettleman at February's NFL combine in Indianapolis. He'd already swung and missed on Los Angeles Rams pass-rusher Robert Quinn, who went to the Miami Dolphins. Pierre-Paul was a player who was always on the Bucs' radar, even before 2018, because of his production and also his high cap charge. Had he remained with the Giants in 2018, he would have counted $17.5 million against the cap.
Pierre-Paul also fit the type of player, from a personality standpoint, that the Bucs were looking for -- resilient -- after coming off a 5-11 season that carried such high expectations.
"It's one thing that's been on our mind a lot, what we're looking for as a quality in a player, and Jason defines resiliency," Licht said. "To come back from what he did, it's one of the things -- it's the main thing -- that made him a big draw for us, why we would go after him."