The processes and practices leading up to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster cuts for the regular season have been quite different in 2020 than any year before. One final roster result seems likely to remain the same as it was in Bruce Arians' first year as head coach: The Buccaneers are likely to start the season with three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.
Tom Brady, of course, is the starter, replacing Jameis Winston. After 20 seasons and six Super Bowl championships in New England, Brady will take on a new challenge in 2020 and try to lead his new team back to the playoffs.
Arians has also made it clear that of the other three quarterbacks on the training camp roster – Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin and Reid Sinnett – Gabbert will go into the season as the primary backup to Brady. Gabbert battled Griffin for that role a year ago and likely would have claimed it thanks to his previous experience in Arians' offense, but a preseason shoulder injury eventually landed him on injured reserve. The Buccaneers did keep Gabbert on the 53-man roster for the first three weeks of the season in the hopes that he would be able to return to action that season, but in the end surgery was required. Gabbert is healthy now and ready to take on the very important role of backing up Brady.
"I just try to put my best foot forward every day," he said. "Anything I can do to help the football team, help Tom [Brady] in our quarterback room, that's what my job description is. I'm ready and willing – if my number is called – to get ready to go, but at the same time, my job right now is to help Tom get ready to beat New Orleans."
That leaves three questions still to be resolved: Will the Buccaneers keep Griffin on the 53-man roster, as well? Will they put Sinnett on the practice squad to continue his development and create an emergency fourth option if something, including potentially COVID-19, makes one of the other three available? And could the Buccaneers possibly do either of those things but with a different quarterback who becomes available after the league-wide cuts on Saturday?
The answer to the first question seems to be yes. Arians is still undecided on the second one. The third one will surely depend on just who hits the waiver wire.
"It's just one of those things – we will probably keep three for sure and then wait and see whether or not we go to four, or if we bring somebody in case of [injury or illness]," he said. "But, we'll wait and see."
Arians went on to clarify that the Buccaneers would probably keep those first three quarterbacks on the active roster. That's what they did with Winston, Gabbert and Griffin to start last season, although they then ran with just two the rest of the way after Gabbert went to IR. The third passer in the building became former undrafted rookie out of Princeton Chad Kanoff, who was on the practice squad for the last 11 games.
Fortunately for the 2019 Buccaneers, Winston remained healthy enough to start throughout the season, so they never were in a situation where they were one play away from having to turn to Kanoff. Griffin did get to throw his first career regular-season passes against Indianapolis in Week 14 while Winston was getting X-rays on his right thumb, but that only amounted to two completions in four attempts before Winston returned.
Though Arians has at times mentioned his preference to carry only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, since teams typically only keep two active on game days, in actual practice he has more often carried three during his six years as a head coach in Arizona and Tampa. Generally, injuries have been the driving factor in those decisions, though this year teams may plan their quarterback rooms differently given the lingering possibility that a COVID-19 test could lead to the sudden absence of several passers at once.