The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made more than three dozen roster moves on Saturday, as NFL teams trimmed their rosters down to 53 for the regular season, but were still left with some unfinished business.
On Monday, the Buccaneers made two more moves, placing defensive tackle Mitch Unrein on injured reserve and re-signing long-snapper Garrison Sanborn. Unrein has not practiced or played in a game since sustaining a concussion early in training camp.
The timing of the Unrein move was significant and unsurprising in that it allows for his potential return to the active roster this season. Each NFL team is allowed to bring up to two players back from injured reserve during the season but, critically, a player has to be on the initial 53-man roster at the start of the season to be eligible for this treatment. Merely getting the player past the massive cut-down on Saturday and onto the roster on Sunday satisfies that requirement. Had the Buccaneers put Unrein on injured reserve in their Saturday cuts, or prior to that date, he would not have been eligible for a potential return this season.
The return of Sanborn was also expected, as the Buccaneers were left without a long-snapper on the active roster after Saturday's moves. The team released both of the snappers on the roster – Sanborn and first-year player Drew Ferris – and that temporarily created another roster spot the team needed on Saturday.
The league first introduced the I.R.-designated for return rule in 2012, but at that point it could be used just once per team per season, and the player had to be identified as the return candidate when he was placed on injured reserve. A welcome change was made to that rule in 2016, allowing teams to wait until a player was ready to return before designating him as their returning player. This way, teams with multiple players on injured reserve can keep their options open. In 2017, the rule was changed again to give each team two such options. A player must spend at least eight games on I.R. before he can return to the active roster.
Unrein, most recently of the Chicago Bears, is one of five players the Buccaneers added in the spring in an effort to revamp its defensive line. The team used free agency to add Unrein and the former Philadelphia Eagles duo of defensive tackle Beau Allen and defensive end Vinny Curry. After trading a third-round pick to the New York Giants for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the Bucs finished the overhaul by using the 12th-overall pick in the 2018 draft to select defensive tackle Vita Vea.
With both Unrein and Vea unavailable for most of the preseason, the Buccaneers also added some late depth in August by signing veteran defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. Worthy also made the 53-man roster and the Bucs will start the season with a nine-man defensive-line core after the move of Unrein to I.R.
Sanborn was the Buccaneers' long-snapper in 2017 after eight years in the same roll in Buffalo. He has started 144 consecutive games, but the Buccaneers did not re-sign him after the end of last season. Instead, the team signed Ferris, who was the only snapper on the roster throughout the offseason and most of preseason. The Buccaneers just signed Sanborn back at the beginning of last week, creating a very brief competition between the two.