TAMPA — Unlike the threat of lightning and thunderstorms, which briefly derailed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers first training camp workout under new coach Lovie Smith, Carl Nicks never arrived at One Buc Place on Friday.
And unlike those weather threats, he won’t be coming back.
After spending the better part of the last two years attempting to come back from a series of left foot problems, the two-time Pro Bowl left guard announced Friday he is walking away from the game.
“I’d like to thank the Buccaneers organization for working with me as I have attempted to get myself back on the football field,” Nicks said in a statement released by the Bucs.
“However, after careful consideration, I have made the decision to step away from the game. This was by no means an easy decision, but I believe it is what is best for me and my family as well as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”
Nicks came to the Bucs as one of three celebrated free agents at the beginning of the Greg Schiano era, signing a five-year, $47.5 million deal. But a left big toe injury suffered seven games into his first season derailed his career.
Nicks attempted his first comeback from that injury a year later, but he contracted a MRSA infection midway through the preseason last year and wound up playing in just two games in 2013.
Nicks said on several occasions this past offseason that he intended to play through the pain he was experiencing as a result of the foot problems, but he never did make it back on the field in a playing capacity.
“I know this has been a difficult time for Carl and his family, but we respect his decision and thank him for his effort in trying to get back on the football field,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said.
“Carl was an elite player and sometimes these prideful elite players, if they don’t feel they’re 100 percent, they don’t want to expose themselves. He wanted to give us his best and he felt like he couldn’t give us 100 percent.’’
Licht said the Bucs were hopeful Nicks would join the team for the start of training camp but added he was not caught by surprise by his decision to walk away from the game at this time.
“This is something we’ve been talking about for quite some time,’’ Licht said. “He was honest with us and we were honest with him and it was a mutual decision. But if he had been able to play it would have been a bonus for us.’’
Licht refused to provide details of the agreement between the Bucs and Nicks, who earned $25 million in guarantees through the first two years of his contract with the team but was not guaranteed any money in 2014.
Nicks, who was slated to earn $7 million in base salary this year, will not be retained on the Bucs reserve list, meaning he will automatically become an unrestricted free agent.
“It’s a shame we didn’t get to work with him on the football field,’’ Bucs coach Lovie Smith said of Nicks. “Carl worked hard this summer to get back and sometimes your body just won’t allow you to do that.’’
Nicks’ former teammates were disappointed to hear the news of his departure. Some, such as defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, said he made them better football players and was a model teammate.
“He was a great teammate, always smiling, and he loved the game and loved his teammates, so you hate to see him go,’’ McCoy said.
The Bucs were all but reserving their starting left guard spot for the 6-foot-5, 249-pound Nicks. Now they will have to conduct a position battle in an effort to find a new starter to replace him.
On Friday, when lightning and the threat of storms in the area forced the Bucs to take shelter just nine minutes into their first workout, Jamon Meredith did what little work there was to do with the first team at left guard.
Smith said Meredith will start camp at the top of the depth chart at left guard while Oneil Cousins will start camp at the top of the depth chart at right guard. For Meredith, the assignment is not a new one.
He started eight of the last nine games there last year and said he’s confident the loss of Nicks will not derail the Bucs’ chances of competing for an NFC South tittle this year.
“I have the utmost respect for Carl and I learned a lot from him, but he’s gone down two times before and we were able to bounce back,’’ Meredith said. “And that was without time to really plan, just adjusting on the fly. So I think we’ll be OK. We have a tough group, a smart group that can bounce back from stuff like this.’’