Although it all happened so suddenly and very unexpectedly, the New Orleans Saints are now entering their annual off-season process with a sizable “hole” in the middle of their D-Line, specifically at the 3-Technique defensive tackle position.
With Sheldon Rankins’ recovery from Achilles surgery that he suffered in the Divisional Playoffs likely to keep him out possibly all the way until early October, along with back-up David Onyemata facing a possible suspension for marijuana possession and Tyeler Davison possibly leaving the team as an unrestricted Free Agent. the Black and Gold suddenly find themselves with a “need” at the DT position within the heart of their much-improved defensive interior from 2018.
So what are the team’s options, exactly?
One solution of course would be to explore adding a DT in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft in late April (in Nashville, Tennessee on the weekend of April 25th thru the 27th); although with New Orleans only having one early round pick this year, it’s unlikely they’d be able to find a young defensive tackle good or capable enough of stepping in right away and becoming a starter.
That of course leaves next month’s 2019 NFL Free Agency signing period as a clear-cut option; and it just so happens that a familiar face — and that of an old enemy who also has been a friend to several Saints players throughout the past several years — could very well become an option for Saints front office brass.
And that player is none other than soon-to-be 10th year NFL veteran and former All-Pro Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy.
As originally reported by ESPN beat writer Jenna Laine: Tampa Bay is expected to switch from their previous 4-3 base defensive alignment (which the Saints run as their base) to a 3-4 alignment under new head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and thereby the likelihood exists that McCoy may end up getting cut from their roster due to his pricey-contract.
McCoy is due to make $13 million next year, and with Tampa in rebuilding mode (again) and only having $16 million in salary cap space to work with, McCoy is a prime candidate to land in the unemployment line.
McCoy and the entire Bucs team struggled at times last season, and the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder had his lowest tackle total since 2011 (28) and his 38 pressures according to PFF were the 3rd-lowest of his entire career up to this point.
Nevertheless, we’re still talking about a player who is one of the best interior D-Linemen in NFL history.
In 9 NFL seasons, McCoy has appeared in 123 games (with all 123 starts), has tallied 296 tackles (218 solo), 54.5 sacks, 79 TFL’s, 140 QB hits, and six forced fumbles.
Given that the Saints will need a solid player in the middle of their D-Line while Rankins recovers, as well as the fact that McCoy and Saints QB Drew Brees are excellent friends off the field, a signing of McCoy to a player-friendly one-year deal laden with incentives, could actually be very possible.
As ESPN’s Laine noted in her article on the friendship that’s developed over the years between the two future NFL Hall of Famers, Brees and McCoy have trained together out in San Diego, California (where Brees still owns a home from when he played for the Chargers) for the past nine off-seasons.
And during that entire time, even though the two players face each other twice a season and are opponents or are considered “enemies” on a given Sunday during the season; off-the-field they remain close and often seek out advice from one another.
“I’ve talked to him mostly about being the leader of a team and how you band together, because he’s not only a [potential] Hall of Famer, but a Super Bowl champion and a Super Bowl MVP,” said McCoy, who is nine and a half years younger than Brees, to Laine.
“He’s led many winning teams in New Orleans. I just talk to him about what they did, and not just him, but about how other leaders on his team went about doing it.”
McCoy has actually enjoyed some success against his old friend Brees.
In the 15 games the two have played against each other gating all the way back to McCoy’s rookie season in 2010, McCoy has recorded 2.5 sacks, 16 quarterback “hits”, batted down three passes and has had 35 combined tackles (23 solo) along with 6 TFL’s (tackles for a loss).
Conversely, McCoy and the Buccaneers D-Line caused Brees some heart-ache during that very same time,
Brees has thrown 13 interceptions in those contests. But he has also thrown for 31 touchdowns and has an (11-4) win-loss record against the Bucs when McCoy has played.
Could the two men now continue their friendship as teammates in 2019?
That of course will all depend on McCoy, and what his plans are for the season ahead with regard to playing what will be his 10th NFL season as a 31-year old, which will begin in about 7 months from this weekend.
Until the Buccaneers officially give McCoy his expected release, his hands are essentially tied at the moment.
McCoy is currently halfway through a seven-year, $93 million contract he signed originally back before the 2014 Season, but as a 31-year old Free Agent with his notable achievements still would likely command upwards to potentially as much as $10 million per season.
Then it would simply become a matter of the Saints remaining under the of the salary cap, and convincing McCoy to sign what likely would be considered a team-friendly deal along with a bunch of incentives that the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma native could reach (sacks, QB ‘pressure” and “hits”, and forced turnovers, to name a few) easily.
Then of course, should the Saints actually convince McCoy to come to NOLA. there would be the inevitable question about what would happen to McCoy and his role once Rankins and Onyemata return to the line-up.
That would be something that the Saints coaching staff would ultimately have to figure out.
But just believe this much: a Saints D-Line that consists of McCoy, Rankins, Onyemata, and Cam Jordan, would be a good problem to have.