TAMPA — Shortly after the Bucs had completed a blockbuster trade for Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul Thursday, general manager Jason Licht made a call to Gerald McCoy.
The six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle had been campaigning on social media for pass rush help, openly recruiting players to come to Tampa Bay.
"The next call I made was to Gerald, and Gerald was equally excited,'' Licht said Thursday. "Since I've been here, he's been dreaming of having a premier defensive end as his sidekick. I told him a couple times, "Gerald just be patient. Just be patient.''
That patience paid off after three weeks of mostly secretive talks between Licht and Giants general manager Dave Gettleman that began at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Typically, teams don't let productive edge pass rushers get away. And at 29, Pierre-Paul was entering only the second season of a four-year, $62-million contract. He had 8.5 sacks last season, but perhaps just as impressively, played about 92 percent of the Giants' defensive snaps.
Let's be honest. Licht was desperate. The Bucs were last in the NFL with 22 sacks last season, and his first job was to fix that in 2018. So he started making phone calls.
"I have a good relationship with the GM there, Dave Gettleman, and you never know unless you ask in this business,'' Licht said. "You just never know. Obviously, defensive end was a position we were trying to get a premier player, so I just started making calls. Is this player available? Is this player available? You get a lot of people laugh at you.
"But Pierre-Paul was one guy that was one of those calls and Dave said, 'I have to think about that.' We kept the talks going. I know they're switching defenses this year. I don't know what they think of Jason in their new scheme. But late last night, we came to an agreement.''
The Bucs sent a third-round pick (69th overall) to the Giants and swapped fourth round choices, moving up to No. 102 from No. 108 for Pierre-Paul.
Although he played only one season for USF in 2009, Pierre-Paul had had 16.5 tackles for losses, 6.5 sacks, one interception returned for a touchdown, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He was named first-team All American, then became the 15th overall pick by the Giants in 2010. Before that, he had been a teammate of Bucs linebacker Lavonte David at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas.
"I called him and he was jacked up,'' Licht said of Pierre-Paul. "He said, 'This is crazy, man, I'm pumped. I was just in Tampa the other day. I couldn't be more excited.'"
If you include the haul of free agents, the Bucs are burning through money like the Pentagon. Much of it has been used to rebuild the defensive line, which is the best place to start.
So Licht added run stoppers in a pair of free-agent defensive tackles: The Eagles' Beau Allen and the Bears' Mitch Unrein. Then last week, he signed Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry to a three-year, $27-million contact. Now it's the trade for JPP, who has played only one season since signing a four-year, $62-million contract with the Giants.
One NFL Network analyst mused that, on paper anyway, the Bucs may have the best pass rush in the league: McCoy, surrounded by Pierre-Paul and Curry off the edge. That doesn't include anything they get from Noah Spence, who is expected to be recovered from a second shoulder surgery, or whoever plays inside on passing downs.
Pierre-Paul's journey is remarkable considering that in 2015, a fireworks accident on the Fourth of July blew off his right index finger and the tip of his right thumb while also severely damaging his middle finger.
Why was he available?
The Giants are moving to a 3-4 under defensive coordinator James Bettcher, and Pierre-Paul didn't fit that scheme. They were able to unload a $15.5-million per year contract. Since they own the No. 2 overall pick, many have speculated they plan to select North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb. But really, the Giants could go a lot of directions, including quarterback.
All that matters for the Bucs is that they have two proven veteran defensive ends under age 30 that are both capable of getting 8.5-10 sacks.
Although they hope Pierre-Paul plays for a number of seasons, the Bucs can walk away from his contract after 2018 with no dead money on the salary cap since the guarantees will have been paid.
Licht said his attention has now turned to the NFL draft. Even with Pierre-Paul and Curry, the Bucs will be on the lookout for another pass rusher.
That would make McCoy very happy.