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The 2010 NFL Draft comes full circle for the Buccaneers with the Ndamukong Suh signing

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The Buccaneers’ draft strategy in 2010 was to take whichever elite defensive tackle the Lions didn’t want.

2010 NFL Draft Round 1 Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Many things have changed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the last nine years. They’re on a fifth head coach since then, and their entire 2010 draft class is gone now after the decision to release Gerald McCoy.

McCoy, 31, made six Pro Bowls in his time with the team and lived up to his status as the No. 3 overall pick in his draft class. But he was eager to join a playoff contender and avoid living through another rebuild of the Buccaneers defense. So the defensive tackle and the Buccaneers “mutually agreed” that it was time for the team to part ways with McCoy and his $13 million cap hit.

The Bucs’ replacement is the player who was taken one pick ahead of McCoy in the 2010 NFL Draft: Ndamukong Suh.

Once upon a time, Suh and McCoy were the clear-cut top defensive prospects in the NFL Draft. The St. Louis Rams were locked in on using the No. 1 pick to take Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford, leaving the Detroit Lions the option to take Suh or McCoy at No. 2 — one pick ahead of the Buccaneers.

“You could flip a coin on these two based on how they played and how they transitioned character-wise,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said of the two defensive tackles in an April 2010 conference call. “Everyone raves about Suh and McCoy ... the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will just sit there and take which one is left.”

The Lions picked Suh, the player most considered the better of the two. That left McCoy for the Buccaneers, who swore they were hoping the dominoes would fall the way they did.

“This is exactly who we wanted,” then-Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris said of McCoy. “This is exactly who we went out to get and we got him. He’s a perfect fit for what we do.”

Only those in the Buccaneers’ war room nine years ago know if that was the truth. But nearly a decade later, Tampa Bay is filling McCoy’s shoes with the player they almost certainly would’ve picked if the Lions made a different choice. A player who has had a remarkably similar career — at least, statistically — as McCoy.

If every team had a do-over of the 2010 NFL Draft, the Rams would probably take back their decision to select a quarterback who only played 49 games for them. The Lions might not want to take Suh, considering he left for a record-breaking contract with the Dolphins after five years in Detroit.

Tampa Bay’s strategy of happily picking whichever elite defensive tackle prospect fell into its lap aged well, though.

Suh isn’t the same player he was when he signed his blockbuster deal with Miami as the most prized free agent of 2015. He turned 32 in January and had to wait until May to find a team, despite sitting No. 21 on our list of the top free agents of 2019. But the Bucs will still get a glimpse of what could’ve been if the Lions made a different choice way back in 2010.