McLendon played in the 24-0 Jets loss anyway, which is uncommon for both emotional reasons and because an injury could have nullified the trade. Typically when NFL trades happen prior to games, players are made inactive.
“I got the news on Saturday night, that a car would be waiting for me after the game Sunday to come to Tampa,” McLendon said Friday. “I was like, ‘OK.’ Sunday morning, I woke up, I prayed, and I was like, ‘This is one last ride.’ I told my boys, I was like, ‘This is one last ride together.’ A lot of guys were saying, ‘Man, you’re really gonna play?’ And I was like, ‘Man, this could be the last time I play with y’all in my career.’ I said, ‘Let’s go out here and make it a great one. Let’s go have some fun.’
“Even though we had lost that day, it was some good football played between us. 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.
“The biggest thing is I’m here now. This is one of the greatest opportunities for me in my career. And it’s a great, great opportunity to come be part of an organization that wants you at this age.”
McLendon was on the road in Miami with no additional baggage or means of transportation, which is why the car was provided. He immediately began COVID-19 testing protocol — which has recently been expanded to six consecutive days — so he would be eligible to play this weekend. Had he waited to make the drive by even a day, he would not have gotten one practice in with the Buccaneers on Friday or have been eligible to play Sunday against the Raiders.
Tampa Bay had a need at defensive tackle after a season-ending injury to starter Vita Vea, and McLendon, 34 and in his 11th season, has played for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers.
Bowles insisted that the Bucs make a move for the Jets captain, who played 24 of 56 defensive snaps against the Dolphins. The Buccaneers gave up a sixth-round draft pick in 2022 and received a seventh-round pick in 2023.
“They asked me, and yes, I stood on the table for him. We need depth down there,” Bowles said. “It’s a long season. You rarely get through the season with the guys you have. … He can help us, if not now then down the line, [and] he was a good guy to get for us. Any time you can get a good player and a good person, you try to get him.”
The news wasn’t a complete shock to McLendon. The Jets are in a rebuild, and running back Le’Veon Bell was cut and signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. But McLendon acknowledged that it was hard to suit up one last time.
“When the trade was made, it was very emotional for me because I do have a lot of family and friends there,” McLendon said. “But at the same time, I was also excited, coming from not being able to win to coming to be part of an organization that’s winning — it’s always something that you want to do. You want to be a winner. You want to be remembered as a winner.”
Coach Bruce Arians said “there’s no doubt” McLendon will be in the Buccaneers’ rotation of defensive linemen Sunday.
“I always go back to, in Arizona, we signed Red Bryant on Thanksgiving and he played 22 plays on Sunday,” Arians said. “Steve’s been in this defense. Todd and Kacy both coached him, so it’s an easy recall for him.”