General Manager Jason Licht spent the offseason putting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in position for a spirited Super Bowl title defense by bringing back a long list of core free agents, including all 22 starters from 2020. The actual roster the Buccaneers will take into their quest for a repeat wasn't fully set until Tuesday, however, when it was trimmed to 53 active players prior to the 4:00 p.m. ET deadline.
And, in fact, it's likely that roster isn't fully set yet, as the Bucs currently have four players on the reserve/COVID-19 list who don't yet count against the limit. Those four are kicker Ryan Succop, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and offensive linemen Nick Leverett and Earl Watford.
When any or all of those four are activated within the next week, the team will need to trim a matching number of players from the current 53, either by cutting players or putting them on reserve lists. To be eligible for the short-term injured reserve list – from which a player can return after missing as few as three weeks – the player must first make the 53-man roster before being moved to IR. Players who are put on injured reserve prior to the cut to 53, such as rookie guard Sadarius Hutcherson, can not play for the team again that season.
The roster as it stands on Tuesday could also be tweaked based on what the Buccaneers find on a waiver wire loaded with hundreds of players from cuts around the league.
As it stands after Tuesday's moves, however, the Buccaneers made an even split between offense and defense with 25 players on each side, with the last three spots going to specialists. After waiving both Tanner Hudson and Codey McElroy and releasing Jerell Adams, the Buccaneers will start the season with just three tight ends after carrying four for almost all of 2020. The extra spot was shifted to the offensive line, which kept nine players, including first-year guard John Molchon.
View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 53-man roster.
Head Coach Bruce Arians hinted during the last week of training camp that his team would carry either 10 linebackers (outside and inside) or 10 defensive backs (cornerback and safety). At the moment, the extra spot goes to the linebackers, with outside linebacker Cam Gill and rookie inside linebackers K.J. Britt and Grant Stuard all making it.
The Buccaneers retained six of their seven 2021 draft picks, with the exception being seventh-round cornerback Chris Wilcox. The only undrafted rookie still on the roster after Tuesday's cuts is kicker Jose Borregales, who handled the placekicking duties in the preseason finale at Houston with Succop unavailable.
Listed below is how the initial 53-man roster breaks down, with the players listed alphabetically at each position (rookies marked with an asterisk). We've also included the four players currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list, some or all of whom could be activated to the 53-man roster in the coming week.
Quarterbacks (3): Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask*
The Buccaneers kept Trask, a second-round draft pick and possibly an eventual successor to Brady, over long-tenured but little-used veteran Ryan Griffin. Gabbert is likely to be the primary reserve for Brady in 2021, however.
Running Backs (4): Giovani Bernard, Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
One of the few new veterans on the roster, Bernard appears to have carved out a significant role as a third-down back, while Fournette and Jones remain essentially co-starters. Vaughn, the 2020 third-round pick, helped his cause for the fourth spot in the backfield by finding a role on special teams as a gunner.
Wide Receivers (6): Antonio Brown, Jaelon Darden*, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Tyler Johnson, Scotty Miller
There was little surprise in the top five receivers retained with the starting trio of Evans, Godwin and Brown backed up by promising young players Johnson and Miller. Darden appears to have beaten out Jaydon Mickens for the return job, thus securing the sixth spot. The Bucs cut Mickens, Cyril Grayson and Travis Jonsen to get down to six and any or all of those three could be top candidates for the practice squad.
Tight Ends (3): Cameron Brate, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard
Neither Hudson nor McElroy apparently offered enough as a blocker or a special teams player to prompt the Bucs to keep a fourth tight end, though both are strong pass-catchers and could stick around on the practice squad. With both Howard and Brate coming off injuries and Gronkowski coming off his first-ever 20-game season, the Bucs will likely keep some depth on that secondary unit.
Offensive Linemen (9): Alex Cappa, Robert Hainsey*, Ryan Jensen, Ali Marpet, John Molchon, Donovan Smith, Aaron Stinnie, Josh Wells, Tristan Wirfs, (Nick Leverett and Earl Watford – COVID list)
There is likely room for some post-Tuesday-cuts maneuvering with this group. Molchon was injured at the end of the preseason and could be a candidate for injured reserve. Also, Leverett was a favorite of the coaching staff during camp thanks to his versatility and could join this group after coming off the COVID list.
Defensive Linemen (6): Khalil Davis, Will Gholston, Steve McLendon, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Patrick O'Connor, Vita Vea, (Ndamukong Suh – COVID list)
This group will swell to seven players after Suh's expected activation from the COVID list, and it may have been difficult even to get to that number. Defensive line was one of the deepest spots on the training camp roster and the Bucs have shown interest since last season or earlier in cut players Jeremiah Ledbetter, Benning Potoa'e and Kobe Smith.
Outside Linebackers (5): Shaquil Barrett, Cam Gill, Anthony Nelson, Jason Pierre-Paul, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka*
The Bucs managed to keep five edge rushers on Tuesday, as Outside Linebacker Coach Larry Foote had lobbied for earlier in camp, but this might also be a fluid situation depending on how seriously Gill has injured. The second-year pro who got half of a sack in Super Bowl LV missed the majority of training camp with a lower-leg injury. Whether the Bucs end up with four or five OLBs, Tryon-Shoyinka, the team's first-round pick in April, makes the edge rotation much deeper in 2021.
Inside Linebackers (5): K.J. Britt, Lavonte David, Kevin Minter, Grant Stuard, Devin White
Britt and Stuard, fifth and seventh-round draft picks respectively, were selected in part due to their special teams abilities, and both apparently did enough in that department to make the 53-man roster. Britt was the more impressive player on defense during training camp. The Buccaneers made it through their Super Bowl season with very little depth at this spot but look better in that regard after the 2021 draft.
Cornerbacks (5): Ross Cockrell, Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Dee Delaney, Sean Murphy-Bunting,
Cockrell essentially gives the team a balanced secondary of 4.5 cornerbacks and 4.5 safeties after learning the latter position in training camp and quickly showing affinity for it. The Buccaneers are confident in him as a backup at outside corner, slot corner and free safety. Delaney came on strong in the preseason, both on defense and on special teams, and won a crowded competition for a fifth spot over Wilcox, Antonio Hamilton and Herb Miller.
Safeties (4): Chris Cooper, Mike Edwards, Jordan Whitehead, Antoine Winfield
Cooper is probably the most surprising player remaining after Tuesday's cuts given that he only arrived in Tampa on the day training camp began. He impressed on special teams during the preseason, which was emphasized by Arians in regard to the competition for the last five or six spots on the roster. Whitehead missed significant time in training camp due to COVID and injury but Arians is hopeful the incumbent starter will be ready by the regular-season opener.
Specialists (3): Jose Borregales*, Bradley Pinion, Zach Triner, (Ryan Succop – COVID list)
The Buccaneers would have a rookie handling the kicking job if they had a game to play on Wednesday, but Succop will soon be eligible to return from the COVID list, so there could be further movement here. Succop made 37 of his 40 field goal attempts for the Buccaneers last season, including the postseason, and then got a sizeable new contract to remain with team in 2021. Pinion and Triner had no competition in camp.
Only 10 of the 53 players on the current roster are completely new to the squad, including the seven aforementioned rookies. The only new veterans to make it through Tuesday's cuts were running back Giovani Bernard, safety Chris Cooper and cornerback Dee Delaney. The other 43 have either played for Tampa Bay already or have at least been on the team's practice squad. That is unsurprising given how few significant contributors from the team that beat Kansas City in Super Bowl LV left in free agency.
The oldest player on the roster is once again Tom Brady, of course. After throwing 50 touchdown passes, postseason included, and winning his seventh Super Bowl ring at the age of 43, Brady seems poised to continue building his legacy in his age-44 campaign. The Buccaneers went from just three players age 30 or older on their initial roster in 2019 to nine to start last season, and the trend continues in 2021. The roster left after Tuesday's moves includes 15 players north of 30, and Bernard will also turn 30 in November.
The youngest player on the roster is Britt, who turned 22 in June. Despite having a full NFL season under his belt, tackle Tristan Wirfs remains the third-youngest player on the team.