Beginning of end for Carl Nicks?

TAMPA, Fla. – When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers laid out a five-year, $47.5 million contract for Carl Nicks last year, they thought they were getting the best guard in the NFL.

They were right. In four seasons with the New Orleans Saints, Nicks was dominant.

But the Bucs really haven’t seen what Nicks can do. And maybe they never will.

“He played one and a half games healthy (last year),’’ coach Greg Schiano said Wednesday.

Schiano said Nicks hurt his toe and played through pain before being placed on the injured reserve list. Wednesday’s news that Nicks had surgery in an effort to remove a recurring MRSA infection from his foot makes you wonder if Nicks, 28, ever will be the same player he once was.

Nicks was diagnosed with MRSA in the preseason and missed the first two games of this season. He played in the third and fourth games before the MRSA returned. Schiano said Wednesday he had no timetable for Nicks’ return, but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll stay out for the rest of the season.

Even before the MRSA, Nicks was saying he likely would have to play through toe pain for the rest of his career. Throw in the MRSA and things don’t look very promising.

Maybe things will work out. Maybe Nicks will come back and be a dominant player again. Or maybe he can’t and we’re witnessing the beginning of the end of his career.