Former Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has more tackles for loss (11) against the Panthers than against any other team.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers guard Trai Turner took to social media earlier this month when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released Gerald McCoy, calling the six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle a “real-life savage.”
Turner would know. The Panthers’ four-time Pro Bowl tackle has faced McCoy, 31, twice a year since 2014.
Now the Panthers have a chance to add McCoy to a defense that is making a transition from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4. He arrived in Charlotte on Thursday to meet with the coaching staff and management.
If all goes well, an offer could be on the table by Friday.
Asked earlier this week if McCoy could help his defense, coach Ron Rivera replied, “A guy with his ability could help most certainly.”
McCoy already has visited Cleveland and Baltimore but left each without a contract. That the Panthers arrived late to the party isn’t a surprise. They likely wouldn’t have the cap space to sign McCoy until Saturday, when another $7.5 million will become available from the release of offensive tackle Matt Kalil.
McCoy has been a nemesis to the Panthers since arriving in the NFL as the third overall pick of the 2010 draft. His 42 tackles in 15 games against his NFC South rival is his most against any team. So are his 34 solo tackles.
His 4.5 sacks against the Panthers are tied for second-most against any team. He has five against Atlanta and 4.5 against Philadelphia.
So adding McCoy makes sense for Carolina on several levels. Here are four reasons:
Sacks: Improving the pass rush has been a priority after the Panthers finished 27th in the league last season with 35 sacks. McCoy has 39.5 sacks when lined up as a defensive tackle since 2010, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Only Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald have more from the inside rush. McCoy has 54.5 sacks overall in nine seasons and 45.5 since 2013. Even with a drop-off the past two seasons — six sacks each year — McCoy can’t help but improve the pass rush. No Carolina interior lineman had more than three sacks last season. Vernon Butler, the team’s first-round pick in 2016, has been such a disappointment that his fifth-year option wasn’t picked up.
Position flexibility: This is the biggest reason McCoy can help. At 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, he can line up beside Short at defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme, give Dontari Poe a break as the nose tackle in a 3-4 or play end in a 3-4. Put Short, Poe and McCoy up front with added speed at outside linebacker and it has a chance to be one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL. Currently, Kyle Love would be the other end in a 3-4. Adding McCoy also would ease the drop-off in talent on a front that thrives on a rotation to keep players fresh. There’s just no negative here for a team looking to win now, unless McCoy all of a sudden begins playing old. And winning now is important to McCoy, who wants to play for a contender after never making the playoffs with the Bucs.
Cost: The Bucs released McCoy because they didn’t want to pay him $13 million this season. That McCoy left Cleveland and Baltimore without a deal likely means the offers weren’t as sweet as he wanted. The Panthers don’t have a lot of cap room but could spread enough around a two-year deal to make this happen at somewhat of a bargain price. They wouldn’t have entered the party late if they weren’t serious. Carolina also can offer something none of the other suitors could: a chance to face the Bucs twice a year, including an Oct. 13 game in London. Don’t underestimate the power of facing the team that let the player go twice a year.
Cam Newton: McCoy has long been an advocate for Newton, saying in 2015 the first pick of the 2011 draft deserved to be the MVP of the league because of all he’s done with so little around him. McCoy also has an appreciation for Newton’s flare on and off the field. “He is very necessary in this league, in my opinion,” McCoy told ESPN.com in 2016. “The type of person he is — I don’t want to call it flamboyant, but he’s outgoing and he shows his passion by having fun.” Most important, McCoy likely won’t be pressuring Newton twice a year again.