CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — All it took for the Carolina Panthers to land All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was a one-year deal worth up to $10.25 million — and a vegan lunch with some future teammates.
When some of Carolina's core players heard general manager Marty Hurney was considering signing the free agent defensive tackle, they organized a lunch at a local vegan restaurant during McCoy's visit to Charlotte last week knowing the 31-year-old McCoy had given up eating meat five months ago.
Luke Kuechly, Greg Olsen, Kawann Short, Shaq Thompson, Trai Turner and Christian McCaffrey all attended the lunch, hoping to convince their former division rival to sign with Carolina rather than the Baltimore Ravens or Cleveland Browns, the other two teams who were courting the six-time Pro Bowler.
It worked better than the Panthers could have imagined.
McCoy said the lunch — and camaraderie he noticed with the players — was a big reason why he signed with the Panthers.
"Instant chemistry," McCoy said Tuesday at an introductory news conference.
McCoy said it felt as if he was back in high school again being recruited by Oklahoma.
He recognized that the players could have been doing something else, but said it felt special that they showed up to give him a sales pitch and eat at a restaurant they normally wouldn't visit.
"I left that lunch feeling I could fit right in here," McCoy said.
The 31-year-old McCoy has been one of the better players at his position over the past nine seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and is the only NFL defensive tackle with at least six sacks in each of the past six seasons. He has 296 tackles and 54½ sacks during his career.
Hurney said in a statement that "it's great to have Gerald on our side now. We are very familiar with his skillset."
McCoy likes being on the same team as quarterback Cam Newton instead of chasing the former 2015 league MVP around the field twice a year.
He's admired Newton from a distance, calling him "the best escape artist in the league."
McCoy's son is a big fan of Newton too, always using him to play on Madden football.
McCoy isn't worried about where he will fit in on Carolina's defensive line, one that will rotate between a three- and four-man front this year.
"In this league you have to be a Swiss army knife," McCoy said. "And (defensive coordinator) Eric Washington has a great plan in place where we can move guys around."
McCoy said he's a loyal team player.
At Oklahoma he supported his school by going to volleyball, basketball and baseball games.
That said, he doesn't seem to have any ill feelings toward the Bucs jettisoning him after nine seasons and quickly giving away his No. 93 jersey to replacement Ndamukong Suh.
"Business is business," McCoy said. In 2012 Peyton Manning was released by the Colts. At that point, my perspective on this league changed. If you can let a person like Peyton Manning go, then anybody can be released. It's a business."