One of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' very first transactions of 2017 paid off with a game-changing touchdown on the last day of the entire year.
First-year safety Isaiah Johnson scooped up a fumbled punt early in the fourth quarter of the Buccaneers' season-ending win over the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 31, returning it seven yards for a score. That gave Tampa Bay a 20-17 lead in an eventual 31-24 victory over the NFC South Division winners.
Johnson's big play came 363 days after he had re-signed with the Buccaneers on a reserve/futures contract. The Buccaneers signed six players to such contracts on January 2, 2017, two of whom would eventually end up on the active roster during the regular season. Johnson played in four games this past season, and offensive lineman Mike Liedtke saw action in that final win over New Orleans, making his NFL debut.
On Wednesday, the Buccaneers announced their latest round of reserve/futures signings, making the first official tweaks to their 2018 roster. Those eight signees, all of whom finished the 2017 season on Tampa Bay's practice squad, are:
- CB Maurice Fleming
- FB Austin Johnson
- WR Jake Lampman
- WR Devin Lucien
- LB Eric Nzeocha
- T Givens Price
- T Brad Seaton
- G Avery Young
Practice squad contracts expire as soon as the regular season ends, so teams often move quickly to re-sign any such players they would like to continue developing, as was the case with Johnson and Liedtke. Reserve/future contracts allow all teams in the NFL, even those who are still in the playoffs, to sign existing free agents for the upcoming season. Those contracts officially take effect when the new league year begins in March.
Nzeocha, who played American football for the German national junior team before attending the University of Wyoming, spent the entire 2017 season on Tampa Bay's practice squad as part of the International Player Pathway program. He joined the Buccaneers in May and did not count against the offseason roster limit or the usual 10-man practice squad limit during the regular season.
Technically, Nzeocha will count against the Buccaneers' 90-man roster limit once his contract takes effect with the new league year in March. However, he will once again be given a roster exemption after the 2018 NFL Draft concludes.
Of the eight players on Wednesday's list of signing, three have seen regular-season action in the NFL. Johnson played 17 games with two starts for New Orleans across the 2014-15 seasons, plus one more with the Buccaneers late last year. Lampman also suited up for six games with the Saints in 2016, and Price played one contest for the Arizona Cardinals in '16.
Fleming is the one player on the list who started his professional career in Tampa, signing as an undrafted free agent in May. He had a strong training camp with the Buccaneers but was injured in the preseason and waived/injured on Aug. 19. He returned to Tampa Bay's practice squad for the final month of the season.
Most of the players signed Wednesday are quite new to the Buccaneers, having come aboard for the first time in Week 12 or later as a series of late-season injuries caused quite a bit of roster shuffling. Lampman, Lucien, Price, Seaton and Young – the newcomers on the list – will now get an extended opportunity in the offseason to display their talents.