In every sport, it’s common practice for teams to prevent players from participating in a game after a trade has been consummated. It’s also not that uncommon for players to be removed midgame if a deal is struck during the action. Yet in an extremely rare set of circumstances, McLendon insisted on playing and the Jets and Buccaneers allowed it, with postgame transportation waiting outside of Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium to make the almost four-hour trip to Tampa.
“I got the guaranteed news on Saturday night, that a car would be waiting for me after the game on Sunday to come to Tampa,” McLendon said Friday after his first practice as a Buccaneer. “And I was like, ‘Okay.’ Sunday morning, I woke up, I prayed, and I was like, ‘This is one last ride.’ I told my boys, I was like, ‘Man, this is one last ride together.’ A lot of guys were saying, ‘Man, you’re gonna really play?’ And I was like, ‘Man, this could be the last time I play with y’all in my career.’ I said, ‘So let’s go out here and make it a great one. Let’s go have some fun.’”
The now-former Jets captain finished the 24-0 loss with four tackles in 24 defensive snaps in his 65th and final game with New York. The Jets and Buccaneers officially announced the trade Tuesday afternoon.
“Even though that we had lost that day, it was some good football played between us,” McLendon said. “And when it was over with, it was emotional — very emotional — because I made a lot of great friends there and family members there that I call family now.”
Jets defensive line coach Andre Carter said Friday in a phone interview with The Washington Post that he had never heard of a player playing in a game after he knew he was being traded.
“It shows you the type of player he is, the level of character he has, just overall the type of human being he is,” Carter said. “His goal was to focus and just get a win. That just shows the level of professionalism. It shows how much he loves the game and loves his teammates. You gotta respect a man that does that. That’s very rare.”
The move sends the 34-year-old from an 0-6 team in the driver’s seat for the top pick in the 2021 NFL draft to a 4-2 playoff contender led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback. His addition to the Buccaneers defense fills a hole left by 2018 first-round pick Vita Vea, who suffered a season-ending broken leg in a loss to the Chicago Bears earlier this month.
“The biggest thing is I’m here now,” McLendon said of his new team. “This is one of the greatest opportunities for me in my career. And it’s a great, great opportunity to come be a part of an organization that wants you at this age.”
“Steve’s a great human being and a heck of a player …” Buccaneers Coach Bruce Arians said Friday. “He jumped in a car and came straight here, had some clothes shipped in and will head to Vegas and get in about 20 or 30 snaps, hopefully.”
McLendon originally signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent out of Troy in 2009 and ended up playing 79 games in the Steel City before signing a three-year, $12 million deal with New York in 2016. He played under Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles from 2016 through 2018 when Bowles was the Jets head coach. McLendon arrives in Tampa with high bona fides and a glowing recommendation from his coaches in New York.
“I think they’ll be very happy,” Carter said of the Buccaneers having McLendon in their organization. “That’s just the honest truth. I think it’s just not so much the player, it’s the leadership that he brings. He’s a big communicator. He talks when he needs to talk. He’s not one of those overly-vocal leaders. One thing I like about him, everything’s always spot-on … He knows there’s a standard of having a winning attitude, performing at a certain level. I don’t think — I know — that the Tampa Bay Bucs organization as well as the team and the fans, they’ll just love him. He just brings this great energy.”
McLendon’s Buccaneers debut will happen even sooner than anticipated. Tampa Bay’s road game this Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders was moved up from the 8:20 p.m. Eastern time “Sunday Night Football” time slot to 4:05 p.m. after the Raiders placed five players, including four offensive linemen, on their covid-19 reserve list.