The Buccaneers accomplished an intriguing swap this week, trading in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and his $13 million salary for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and a $9.25 million salary with another $750,000 in potential incentives. They did it even though they know McCoy extremely well, but they don’t really know Suh very well at all.
Indeed, Suh (who signed the one-year deal while vacationing in France) didn’t visit Tampa or work out for the team. Remember the Brock Osweiler debacle in Houston? The Texans signed the quarterback sight-unseen on the first day of free agency in 2016, and it would be been far more beneficial for both sides (specifically Osweiler and coach Bill O’Brien) to have spent some time together in order to get a feel for whether they ultimately might, you know, hate each other.
With Suh, the Buccaneers had some prior knowledge, beyond the fact that offensive lineman Evan Smith was once on the receiving end of a Suh stomp. G.M. Jason Licht went to college at Nebraska, so he has followed the career of the former Cornhusker closely. Also, Buccaneers assistant strength and conditioning coach Chad Wade worked at Nebraska throughout Suh’s career there, and Bucs quarterbacks coach Clyde Christenen worked in Miami for two of Suh’s three seasons with the Dolphins.
Throw in the fact that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles became familiar with Suh when the Jets considered signing him in 2018 and the reality (per a source with knowledge of the situation) that the Buccaneers had done research on Suh in the past, the team felt comfortable making the commitment without an in-person visit or workout.
The move nevertheless remains curious. Suh actually had fewer sacks than McCoy in 2018 (four vs. 6.5), and Suh played with double-team magnet Aaron Donald in L.A.. Of course, Suh also spent plenty of time rushing the passer from the edge of the line, which isn’t his natural position and which could make it harder to fault Suh for the perception that he didn’t have a great year.
Still, it seemed that Suh saved his maximum effort for big moments last year, not standing out during much of the regular season and finding the gas pedal in the playoffs. The Rams traded for Dante Fowler Jr. (they initially wanted Jerry Hughes) due largely to their disappointment with Suh’s performance as a pass rusher.
Consider these March comments from coach Bruce Arians, made specifically regarding McCoy: “I mean, guys when they age, it’s different. Usually they’re at the age when they get paid the most and the production doesn’t match. It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. It’s hard. It’s cold. That’s it.”
That same thought process applies to Suh, who at 32 is more than a year older than McCoy. Even though the Bucs have some institutional knowledge regarding what Suh has done in the past, they don’t really have a good feel for what he’s done lately — and more importantly for what he’ll do during his one-year stint in Tampa.
In fairness to the Buccaneers, plenty of teams roll the dice without much advance work. The Raiders traded for Antonio Brown and the Browns traded for Odell Beckham Jr. essentially on a whim, with no visit or workout or anything to ensure that the moves will work. Like deals done at the start of free agency, however, the circumstances of the Brown and Beckham trades required the prospective teams to do a bit of prospecting. Suh has been available for more than two months, and the Bucs had as much time as they needed to bring him in for a visit (no one else was clamoring to sign him), to give him a full physical before making the kind of splash that will be very hard to undo if his eventual physical causes some concern, and to maybe put him through a drill or two to ensure that, at his age, the production will match the price.
Frankly, there would have been no harm whatsoever in getting Suh in the same room with Arians; within five minutes, Arians would know whether Suh is fully committed to doing everything in his power to help the Bucs end an extended postseason drought. (And if Suh’s position was “sign me without a visit,” maybe that was all the Bucs needed to know.)
Basically, the Bucs made a calculated risk that didn’t have to be calculated. They could have gotten more information before making a major investment, and it’s fair to wonder why they didn’t.