Free agency is a time of optimism for teams and fans beaming with the prospects of being officially 0 – 0 and having the opportunity to shore up their small holes or giant craters in their offense or defense. For the Bucs, disappointment has often followed some of these signings as often as productivity. For every Vincent Jackson or Brent Grimes, there has loomed an Anthony Collins or Michael Johnson. It is a stark reminder of how difficult it is to get good players to come to a team that doesn’t really have much to hang its hat on success wise in recent seasons.
In 2014, the Bucs shiny new GM Jason Licht found a gem on the Jackson/Grimes side of the ledger in former Seahawk, Clinton McDonald, who would actually reunite with his former Bengals teammate, Michael Johnson to give Pro Bowler, Gerald McCoy some much needed collaboration along the defensive line. For Johnson, he obviously could match his platoon success in Cincinnati as a starter here, but McDonald proved worth every cent of his $3,000,000 annual salary the Glazers ponied up. Which make current circumstances seem disconcerting.
During this time of the Bucs’ “Taking Care of Their Own”, it is noted that the Bucs have not re-signed McDonald, who is truly a fan favorite and one of ours at this juncture. Like any trench warrior in their early 30s, there’s pros and cons for re-signing a guy like Clinton McDonald—but mostly Pros.
With the firing of Lovie Smith as head coach and promotion of Dirk Koetter in 2016, Mike Smith became the new defensive coordinator and began to immediately revamp the defense. Licht, Smith & Staff quickly added Brent Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves III and Ryan Smith to the secondary and Robert Ayers, Jr. and Noah Spence to the defensive line. This gave the Bucs a much-needed facelift as Jason Licht and Lovie Smith had previously spent 12 of 13 draft picks on offense in 2014 and ’15.
The defense started as a bit of a work-in-progress under Mike Smith, but finished up 9th in sacks, 2nd in forced turnovers and 1st in 3rd down efficiency enroute to a 9 – 7 record and narrowly missing the playoffs. However, there were concerns. The offense was banged up and struggling. This meant the defense spent a lot of time on the field with small defensive tackles often facing 650+ pounds of double team in close games or behind and the defense finished 22nd against the run.
So the Bucs added free agent, Sealver Siligia at the end of ’16 and drafted USC standout, Stevie Tu’kolovatu, in the 2017 draft and signed Chris “Swaggy” Baker who replaced Clinton McDonald as the starter in 2017. And of course, Akeem Spence was not re-signed as he was often bounced and dribbled into Kwon Alexander or Lavonte David’s lap routinely. Mike Smith wanted larger active tackles who could hold up against the run.
The tape showed that Baker had done as much with the Redskins, however, that was not the case with the Bucs as his effort, attitude and productivity came up just short of what Bucs’ brass envisioned. To add injury to the insult of the Glazer’s wallet, McDonald in a backup role, out-performed Baker and McDonald finished second on the Bucs in sacks to Gerald McCoy. As a matter of fact, it became a Shakespearean tragedy of sorts with Baker becoming the antagonist to Clinton McDonald emerging as the protagonist–earning Buccaneers Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Not that Baker is a villain, but McDonald’s character and decency is conspicuous.
As ESPN Reporter and Analyst, Jenna Laine, recently noted, McDonald fits the lunch pail, workhorse mentality that sets the example the Bucs should want to project.
The Bucs have been back to the drawing board in free agency bringing in two capable run-stuffing defensive tackles in Mitch Unrein from the Chicago Bears and Beau Allen from the Eagles. They’re serious football players and good men and probably wouldn’t mind rotating out with a guy that brings the character and diligence that’s continually evident with McDonald. McDonald’s absence in the locker would not go unnoticed by his teammates and could, in fact, create craters. And it would be solid to see McDonald with fresh legs in the fourth quarter with a lead pushing guards on top of their quarterbacks.
It’s hard to get good players and Licht found one in 2014. Do the right things Bucs.