For the second year in a row, a Tampa Bay Buccaneers player is facing a potentially career threatening injury after being involved in a car crash. Last year, it was linebacker Kendell Beckwith who suffered what I can only assume was the worst broken ankle in the history of medicine and hasn’t played football since. This year, it’s Jason Pierre-Paul. As I’m sure most of you out there in Buc Nation have heard, he was recently involved in what Bucs officials referred to a “minor accident”. He was taken to the hospital and released later that same day. No problem, right?
The news broke on Tuesday morning that he would be seeking a second opinion from multiple specialists on what has been diagnosed by the Buccaneers medical staff as a possible fractured neck that could require surgery.
Umm, excuse me?!? A fractured neck???
I thought it was just a “minor accident”??? What the hell happened?
Of course, any injury concerning the neck or back should be considered career threatening to a football player. So if this second opinion is the same as the first, it could be really bad news for Pierre-Paul. Surgery would mean that he would be out a minimum of 6 months, which basically puts him out for the entire 2019 season. But what would that mean for the Bucs?
THE REPLACEMENT SITCH
First, it means that they’re losing their #1 sack producer from last season (12.5). Second, it means they’ll have to figure out how to replace their #1 sack producer from last season. So who are the candidates? Well, there’s free agent addition Shaq Barrett. At 6’2″/250lbs, he will play the outside linebacker role in Todd Bowles defense which means he will be rushing the passer off the edge. He obviously won’t be able to offer the same versatility that JPP would’ve brought to Bowles defense with his ability to slide inside, but he knows how to rush the passer. He had 6 tackles for loss and 3 sacks in 13 games as a backup behind Von Miller with the Denver Broncos last season.
Then there’s their fourth round pick rookie defensive end Anthony Nelson. Unlike Barrett, he does offer the same size (6’7″/275lbs) and scheme versatility that JPP offered with the added bonus of being productive as both a pass rusher and a run stuffer. Last season, he had 45 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
Another option is to use a defensive end-by-committee approach, meaning they use a continuous rotation of bodies to keep players fresh throughout the whole game. That rotation would include, but not be limited to Carl Nassib, Shaq Barrett, Will Gholston, Noah Spence and rookies Terry Beckner Jr. and Anthony Nelson.
One last option is to bring in another proven pass rusher at the DE/OLB position. The best one available in free agency was defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, but he just signed a one year deal with the Seattle Seahawks. As of right now, there’s nobody out there worth signing in my opinion but that could change once the post-draft cuts come and the second wave of free agency begins.
THE SALARY CAP SITCH
The JPP situation is unusual when it comes to how it effects the salary cap. He was set to make $14.9M this season with $7.5M of that fully guaranteed. Or is it? According to Buccaneers ESPN reporter Jenna Laine, that $7.5M may not be fully guaranteed after all since he suffered a non-football related injury. So what does that mean for the Bucs? Right now, they have just under $2M in cap space. If they waive/injured Pierre-Paul and still have to pay him his guaranteed money, they’ll have roughly $9M which is just enough to sign their draft picks. If they are in fact able to get out of his guaranteed money due to the non-football related injury, they will save his entire $14.9M which puts them at around $16.5M in cap space. Now with all of that money suddenly available, they could potentially have enough to find a free agent to replace Pierre-Paul. So what would that mean for Gerald McCoy?
THE McCOY SITCH
Before this, there was speculation whether Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy would be returning for the 2019 season. Many, including myself, didn’t see a way that they could keep him and his $13M contract in Tampa with their limited amount of cap space. But if JPP gets waived and his contract money suddenly becomes available, then the Bucs would have no reason or need to release McCoy. Besides, they would be nuts to CHOOSE to lose their two best defensive linemen this offseason. If Pierre-Paul can’t play for the Bucs this season, then McCoy has to…period. That is IF he still wants to play in Tampa. A recent Instagram video from McCoy on Cinco de Mayo gave the impression that he wasn’t too happy about people doubting his commitment. Some fans have questioned whether he still wants to be a Bucs after being absent from the team’s “voluntary” workouts, which the 31-year old vet has usually attended throughout his career. As pissed off as he might be with some fans, he may be just as mad at the organization for how they’ve handled his situation this offseason. From Bruce Arians saying “He’s just not as disruptive as he used to be” to Jason Licht repeatedly giving noncommittal answers to direct questions about the team’s plans for McCoy. The Bucs haven’t exactly been straight forward, so I don’t blame him for being upset. As for the fans criticisms, that’s nothing new for Gerald. He’s heard how he is “overrated” and “overpaid” and “underperforming” for most of his career despite being one of the most productive and dominant interior lineman over the last decade. That’s the problem when you’re being compared to Warren Sapp, who many consider to be the best 3-tech to ever play. If the Bucs lose JPP, it’s a blow but it’s survivable. If they lose BOTH him and McCoy, it’s devastating.
THE OVERALL SITCH
I’ll admit, I was pretty upset when I heard the news about Pierre-Paul. Every year, we Bucs fans get excited and hyped up about the upcoming season just to see something happen that takes the wind out of our sails. It’s the “Buccaneers Curse” rearing it’s ugly head. However after the initial shock wore off and I started thinking about the overall situation, I feel a little better about it now. I’m not saying that losing JPP is a good thing by any means. It’s never good to lose a player of his caliber. But one way or another, the Bucs were probably going to lose one of their best defenders. Just now, it might be Pierre-Paul instead of McCoy. The positive twist on that is there’s more options available at defensive end and outside linebacker than there are at the 3-tech defensive tackle on this roster.
Another optimistic way to look at this is from the cap space point of view. If Pierre-Paul’s full $14.9M salary becomes available, then that gives them enough cap space to keep McCoy AND sign their draft picks. With a few roster moves and some creative contract restructuring, they might even have enough money to sign a decent free agent to replace JPP.
Losing Jason Pierre-Paul hurts. No doubt about it. He’s one of the best and most complete defensive ends in football. But it’s not the end of the season by any means. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will continue about their business just like they would if any other player was injured. Before we know it, training camp will be here and we’ll be excited for football all over again, even if JPP isn’t there. Hopefully, he is.
Until then, as always…