The Browns tried but couldn’t land free agent defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
He chose to remain in the South — and the NFC South.
McCoy picked the Carolina Panthers on Monday after visiting Cleveland, Baltimore and Carolina and taking the last few days to make a decision. He agreed to a one-year deal reportedly with a base of $8 million, including $4 million guaranteed, with another $2.25 million possible in incentives.
The Browns offered perhaps the best opportunity to reach the playoffs — something McCoy would like to do after nine seasons in Tampa Bay without making the postseason — but not the chance for revenge.
McCoy was a six-time Pro Bowler with the Buccaneers and joins a division rival. He’ll get the chance to face his former team twice this season.
The Buccaneers cut McCoy on May 20 because they didn’t want to pay his $13 million salary and couldn’t find a trade partner who would. They replaced him with Ndamukong Suh, signing him to a $9.25 million deal and giving him McCoy’s No. 93 on Monday.
The choice of the Panthers likely isn’t all about revenge. McCoy has a comfort level in the division, and the Panthers have made the playoffs four of the last six years despite going 7-9 in 2018. They have quarterback Cam Newton (No. 1) and veteran coach Ron Rivera, who led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in the 2015 season.
“Carolina was a great fit for me,” McCoy texted ESPN’s Josina Anderson. “Being around the guys we just meshed & I love the instant chemistry we had. They hv a tradition of having a great defense. I love the players & I believe in #1. Rivera is a proven coach and can’t wait to get started”
The Browns were the first to host McCoy and had fellow Oklahoma alum Baker Mayfield help with the recruiting. But they weren’t desperate for another defensive tackle and didn’t have to spend more than they wanted. They’ll continue with Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi as the starting tackles.
Ogunjobi was a third-round pick in 2017 and had 5.5 sacks last year despite playing the last four games with a torn biceps. Richardson was signed to a three-year, $37 million contract as a free agent in March.
McCoy would’ve given the Browns a Pro Bowler at each defensive line spot, as he would’ve joined Richardson and ends Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon. The Browns would’ve been the fifth team since 1970 to enter a season with four Pro Bowlers starting on the defensive line, according to NFL Research. The 1970-74 Vikings, 1980 Rams, 1982-83 Cowboys and 2018 Jaguars were the others.
Garrett believes the Browns will be in position to join that list next year, predicting big things for Ogunjobi.
“I think he’ll see me in the Pro Bowl this year,” Garrett said. “I don’t think people have been able to see all of Larry. I think that first year we both were just getting our first looks at the NFL. Some people come in and have this gigantic splash, some people just got to smoothly transition into it and I think he made that large leap last year, he was just a little bit hindered. I think he’s out for a breakout year.”
McCoy was the No. 3 pick in the 2010 draft out of Oklahoma, and in nine years has 54.5 sacks, 296 tackles, 79 tackles for loss and 140 quarterback hits in 123 starts and games.
At least the Browns avoided him signing with the rival Ravens.