TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy flashed his trademark smile - not that sitting at bottom of the NFC South with a conference-worst 1-6 record is a reason to be happy.
The struggling Buccaneers are counting on him to be a big part of eventually escaping the cellar, and the All-Pro defensive tackle relishes the challenge of leading a resurgence after signing a seven-year contract extension that boosts this season's salary to $20 million, making him the NFL's top-paid player at his position.
The deal, worth up to $98 million, was announced Saturday, less than 24 hours before a 19-13 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
General manager Jason Licht began a news conference Monday by calling it a ''disappointing'' day in light of the team losing Sunday, yet noted how exciting and comforting it is to have a player the caliber of the 26-year-old McCoy locked up through 2021 ''while we rebuild and retool this roster.''
''You guys know I'm always smiling, so I'm going to smile through this whole thing,'' McCoy said.
''A lot of people you see run from situations like this. They feel like: `Oh well, they're not winning right now. It's not going the way they planned.' So what?'' the two-time Pro Bowl selection said.
''The best feeling in the world is going to be when we turn this thing around, and to know you were a part of it. That you didn't run from a challenge, you didn't run from the fight. I love a fight. I don't like fighting, but I love this fight.''
The Bucs have missed the playoffs the past six years and haven't won a postseason game since their 2002 Super Bowl run. McCoy was the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, and Tampa Bay has finished with a winning record once since he entered the league.
A self-described die-hard Bucs fan who slipped away from a night church service to the pastor's office to watch the team win its only NFL title on television, reiterated that he believes in the vision Licht and coach Lovie Smith have of turning the struggling franchise around.
''I believe them, I trust them. We're going to do it together,'' McCoy said of the GM and coach, both in their first seasons in Tampa Bay. ''That's why I signed that paper.''
McCoy's first two seasons both ended with the 6-foot-4, 300-pound tackle on injured reserve with torn biceps. He shrugged off early criticism to make the Pro Bowl each of the past two years and was an All-Pro selection in 2013, when he had a career-best 9 1/2 sacks.
The contract extension, which includes $51.5 million guaranteed, hiked this season's salary by $7 million to $20 million.
That's on top of what he earned from a five-year, $63 million contract he signed as a rookie.
''Gerald exemplifies the type of character and work ethic we look for in our players,'' Licht said.
''It's one thing to be the face of the franchise. Guys kind of look at how you do things,'' Smith added. ''And Gerald is everything you want in a leader - work harder than everybody, be a great player, say the right thing, be a good teammate. ... These are the kind of guys you make a commitment to.''
McCoy, of course, left the room smiling.
''It's a blessing to be able to take care of my family. But I'm passionate about this sport. I love the team I'm on. I play for the guys around me,'' he said.
''I'm going to keep doing what I do, what I'm asked to do,'' McCoy added. ''I don't want to let anybody down. I'm going to do my best to uphold my end.''
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