The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will head into the weekend with the 80-man roster they carried through a month of training camp. They'll come out of it with a 53-man squad ready to head to New Orleans to take on the Saints.
As always, Labor Day weekend will be the most active stretch for the NFL's waiver wire all year. With every team making the same cut from 80 to 53, upwards of 800 players who were on rosters will suddenly be available. And that cut is just the beginning of the weekend's activity. Here's what lies ahead between now and the start of regular season Week One.
· Rosters Trimmed to 53
Roster cuts are more than just a list of players who didn't make the team. Since actual human beings are involved, they include dozens of unwanted conversations. These don't all happen at the same time; the Buccaneers will be making moves throughout Friday and Saturday, many of which will be reported by outside sources. However, the team is not expected to officially announce its roster moves until after the 4:00 p.m. ET deadline on Saturday.
The Buccaneers have to remove 27 players from their active roster by that deadline. This can be done in a variety of ways:
- Waivers. Any player who has accrued fewer than four seasons of NFL free agency credit is subject to the waiver wire. When they are waived, teams around the league have 24 hours to submit a claim. If multiple teams put in claims, the player goes to the team with the highest spot in the waiver order. At the start of the season, that order is determined by last year's standings; Cincinnati would have the first shot at any player that is cut. A team that claims a waived player inherits whatever remains on the contract he had with his previous team.
Any player that clears waivers is then free to sign with any team, including the one that released him the day before.
- Termination. This is the technical term the league uses to describe the release of a player who does have at least four years of accrued free agency credit. These players are not subject to the waiver wire and can immediately sign with any team, including the one that just released them. As an example of that latter move, the Buccaneers released long-snapper Garrison Sanborn during the league-wide cuts in 2018, then re-signed him two days later. The point of this maneuver is often to get another player through to the 53-man roster past the initial cuts. More on this below.
- Injured Reserve. Placing a player on injured reserve is another way to make him not count against the 53-man roster. The Buccaneers already did this during training camp with running back T.J. Logan and wide receiver John Franklin after they suffered injuries serious enough to keep them out for the entire season. However, there is a very important matter of timing when it comes to putting players on I.R.
Any player who is placed on injured reserve prior to the cut-down to 53 players cannot return to his team's active roster at any point during that season. If at some point he is released with an injury settlement, he could sign with another team and still play but his year with his original team is done as soon as that move to I.R. is made. That already applies to Logan and Franklin.
However, a player who makes it to the initial 53-man roster can then be placed on injured reserve and be eligible to return to action that season. In previous years, this could be done with two players after they had spent at least eight weeks on injured reserve. However, in an effort to give teams more roster flexibility in case of COVID-19 issues, the NFL and NFLPA agreed on significantly different injured reserve rules for 2020 only. This season, any player who goes on I.R. can return to the active roster, and can do so after as little as three weeks on the shelf.
As a practical matter, this could affect the exact 53-man roster the Buccaneers form on Saturday. It could possibly include a player or two who isn't quite ready for action at the expense of another player or two the team would still like to keep around. That would be followed by those players going on I.R. after the cuts and then the other players who were waived being re-signed. Some version of this is likely to happen with teams all around the league.
- Other Reserve Lists. There are a variety of reserve lists with specific designations, including NFI (non-football injury), PUP (physically unable to perform) and the new COVID-19 list. In each case, players who are placed on these lists do not count against the 53-man roster while they have that designation. Different lists have different mechanisms and time periods for a player's return to the active roster.
The Buccaneers only have one player who is eligible for one of these lists at the moment. Safety Justin Evans was placed on the active/PUP list prior to the start of training camp, and for that reason he is eligible to be placed on the reserve/PUP list this weekend. Evans did not return to practice at any point during training camp.
· The "Second Draft"
That's the slang term some Bucs administrations have applied to the day when the waiver wire is flooded with hundreds of players. It is very common for teams to immediately tweak the 53-man roster they formed on Saturday with a couple of moves on Sunday, including potential waiver claims. Last year, the Buccaneers claimed Logan off waivers on the Sunday following league-wide cuts and waived outside linebacker Patrick O'Connor, who had initially made the 53-man roster.
Head Coach Bruce Arians was quick to snap up Logan when the Cardinals made him available, as he had drafted the running back-slash-kick returner during his time as Arizona's head coach. Logan did in fact step in to the Bucs' kickoff return role immediately and later added punt return to his duties before a broken thumb ended his season in late December.
· Formation of the Practice Squad
This is another process that will start as soon as the waiver period is complete on Sunday. Players who clear waivers – or vested veterans who were released – are eligible to be signed to practice squads beginning on Sunday. Teams move fast to form their practice squads, though sometimes a few spots aren't finalized until Monday. The Buccaneers will not practice on Sunday or Monday, so they have some time to get that unit in place.
Just like injured reserve, the practice squad rules have been altered for 2020 only in order to help with potential COVID-19 issues. Instead of 10 spots, each team can now keep 16 players on its practice squad. In addition, six of those spots can be used on players who have any amount of accrued free agency credit. That means that many veteran players who were not previously eligible for practice squad duty can be signed to that unit.
The practice squad also has added importance this year as it can be used to temporarily expand a team's roster on game day. Each week, NFL teams have an option to add two players from their practice squad to their game day roster, increasing that roster from 53 players to 55. At that point, teams can also increase their number of active players for the game from 46 to 48, as long as they keep at least eight offensive linemen active. Teams typically keep only seven offensive linemen active on a 46-man game day active roster.
After the game, those promoted players revert to the team's practice squad without having to go through waivers. There are some restrictions. No player can be promoted in this manner two weeks in a row, and no player can be promoted more than twice during the season. This is going to lead to a long list of players getting some regular season experience this year, and possibly more overall maneuvering of those 16 spots as players use up their game-day availability.
The Buccaneers' initial practice squad of the season usually is made up mostly of players that they just cut on Saturday. Last year, for instance, seven of the nine players the Bucs signed to their practice squad on the Sunday following the league-wide cuts were players they had just let go. Two days later, the Buccaneers also signed O'Connor to that crew after he had been waived on Sunday to make room for Logan.
Even after all of the tasks above are taken care of, the Buccaneers' 2020 roster will be far from 'final.' It is always a body in motion. Last September, Tampa Bay made nine more roster moves following the initial flurry described above, including the additions of safety Andrew Adams and tackle Josh Wells, both of whom ended up with significant roles.