The 80 players vying for 53 spots on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2022 regular-season roster have had their final audition. After a nine-week offseason program, roughly a month's worth of training camp work and three preseason games, the deadline has arrived. Like the other 31 teams in the NFL, the Buccaneers must make the necessary moves to get to a 53-man roster by 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
While there is definitely a jolt of energy that comes from putting together the squad that is going to come together to battle for a championship, this is definitely one of the most emotional and difficult juncture of every football calendar year. Some young players will get the thrilling news that they have cracked an NFL roster, others will learn that their professional dreams have been at the least deferred.
"I mean other than injuries – when you see guys get hurt and lose the opportunity because of an injury – it's the worst day of the job really," said Buccaneers Vice President of Player Personnel John Spytek, who is one of the people deeply involved in shaping the 53-man roster. "There's an excitement, certainly, now that we've got our team, we've got our 53, we've got our 16 on the practice squad, but I have so much respect for the guys that come out here and compete and put it on the line and then sweat and struggle through the game of football. It's a really hard game. It's going to test you in a lot of ways. And the reality is, we just can't keep everybody."
The Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV at the end of the 2020 season and then tied for the league's best regular-season record in 2021 at 13-4. They have retained a good amount of the core of those highly successful teams, so it's fair to say they have one of the league's most talented rosters. That makes it harder for rookies and newcomers to crack the 53-man roster, but even so they have real battles at several positions that have come down to the wire. Before the Buccaneers' preseason finale in Indianapolis on Saturday, Head Coach Todd Bowles pointed out some of those competitive spots, mentioning left guard, wide receiver, cornerback, inside linebacker and a couple areas on special teams.
"Obviously, you want to have as many good football players as you can have, and you want it to be tough," said Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich. "It shouldn't be easy. If it's easy, you're probably not in the right spot where you want to be from what you have [from] a player standpoint. It should be tough at every position; we've built this team to have the best that we can have, right?"
The week begans with a day off for players on Monday but the team will reconvene on Tuesday for a walk-through and some weight room work. While the roster moves are not officially due until that Tuesday afternoon deadline, the team's decision-makers will likely start making contact with players on Monday. Some of the conversations will be more difficult than others.
"I have so much respect for what they do and you know, just because their journey is over here doesn't mean it's done everywhere," said Spytek. "There is a sadness that goes with that and for some guys, it is the end. I remember when my playing career ended – it was never at this level – but it was a hard day, and you have to come to grips with that. To have a hand in that, it's certainly one of the things we think about, but we have a job to do here and we're going to do it. We're going to get the best team ready for the Cowboys."
There is some wiggle room for the team and some of the players it would like to keep around beyond those 53 active roster spots. Once all the league's rosters have been trimmed down, each team can then form a 16-man practice squad, and the majority of those spots in Tampa are likely to be filled from the same pool of players who are waived or released on Monday and Tuesday. With that expanded roster and some new rules providing greater roster flexibility, the practice squad is closer to being an extension of the 53-man roster.
Prior to joining the coaching ranks, Leftwich had a decade-long career in the NFL, beginning as a first-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2003. After four seasons in Jacksonville, he was released during the final cuts in 2007. He knows how some of the Buccaneers' roster hopefuls are going to feel this week.
"It's always difficult that time of year because someone is getting cut, right?" he said. "People start getting cut. Me being a former player, me being cut before – that's just a difficult time for all of us, but it's just the nature of the business."