On Saturday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reduced their roster to 53 players to meet the regular-season limit by placing kicker Lawrence Tynes on the reserve/non-football-injury list and releasing 21 other players, including safety Cody Grimm and defensive tackle Gary Gibson.
As usual, it was one of the most difficult days on the NFL calendar for everyone involved, both strategically and emotionally.
"It's a hard day," said Head Coach Greg Schiano. "This is a good group of people, and they've busted their rear ends for this organization; we work hard around here. Guys have pushed through pain and done things. It's the most competitive sports league in the world; 1,696 guys get to do it when it's all said and done, in the whole world. But that doesn't lessen the disappointment at all for these guys.
"Today's a special day for some and a really bad day for others, but at the end of the day, it's probably not as good as people think, and it's not as bad. This league goes like [in a circle]. These guys that are here are good football players and tough guys, so they'll probably resurface, a lot of them, somewhere else."
Here is the full list of transactions the Buccaneers officially made on Saturday in order to trim the roster to 53 players:
S Sean Baker
CB Deveron Carr
T Jace Daniels
LB Dom DeCicco
LS Andrew DePaola
K Derek Dimke
WR David Douglas
LB Ka'lial Glaud
S Cody Grimm
P Chas Henry
DT Lazarius Levingston
DT Matthew Masifilo
DT Andre Neblett
TE Danny Noble
WR Chris Owusu
T Mike Remmers
CB Mason Robinson
C/G Cody Wallace
G Roger Allen
DT Gary Gibson
WR Jordan Norwood
Placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury List:
K Lawrence Tynes
(Vested veterans are "terminated" and are not subject to the NFL waiver wire; they immediately become free agents who can sign with any team. Those who are not vested are "waived" and are subject to a 24-hour waiver period where they may be claimed by any of the league's other 31 teams.)
Eight of the 22 players trimmed from the active roster on Saturday were rookies or first-year players. However, the resulting 53-man roster does include eight rookies, including the team's entire 2013 draft class, and one first-year player in wide receiver Eric Page. Making the cut this year as the undrafted rookies to beat the odds and stick on the 53-man roster are cornerback Rashaan Melvin and tight end Tim Wright. Wright, in particular, made an impressive rise to regular-season status given that he only converted to his current position from wide receiver in June.
Of those released on Saturday, eight played for the Buccaneers in at least one game last season: Grimm, Allen, Wallace, Levingston, Owusu, Noble, Douglas and Gibson. Masifilo was on the active roster for seven weeks but did not get into a game. Gibson saw the most action among that group, appearing in all 16 games and making one start. Grimm has the most career service time with the Buccaneers, playing in 23 games over the past three seasons since being drafted in the seventh round in 2010.
As alluded to by Schiano above, the roster cutdown to 53 is noteworthy not only for the names on the above list but those not on the list. There are, coincidentally, 22 players on the roster as it stands on Saturday who are new to Tampa Bay in 2013, including of course such high-profile acquisitions as cornerback Darrelle Revis, safety Dashon Goldson, wide receiver Kevin Ogletree and linebacker Jonathan Casillas. That group also includes five players who didn't join the team until June or later: tackle Gabe Carimi, cornerback Michael Adams, running back Peyton Hillis, defensive end Trevor Scott and kicker Rian Lindell. Scott and Lindell, in fact, were signed on August 20 and 21, respectively, in time to play in only the last two preseason games.
The Buccaneers suddenly lighter depth chart also reveals certain positions where the team chose to keep additional depth. As expected, the Bucs kept all three quarterbacks (Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon and Dan Orlovsky) after reserving just two spots for that position last year. There are only five receivers on the current depth chart, including Page, who projects mostly as a kick returner in the early going, but the retention of Wright gives the team four tight ends. The Buccaneers also kept just three reserve offensive linemen on Saturday, but it's the versatile trio of Carimi, Ted Larsen and Jamon Meredith. Larsen can play all three interior-line positions, Meredith has started in the NFL at both tackle and guard and Carimi has recently gotten a long look at left guard. One of those three may also be in the lineup on opening day of Pro Bowl left guard Carl Nicks is not yet back from his foot injury.
On defense, Saturday's cuts left only three players listed at defensive tackle, while all six defensive ends were retained. Of course, the Bucs have several ends who can help out on the interior line, especially on passing downs, including Da'Quan Bowers, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and potentially rookie William Gholston. The secondary was left heavier at cornerback, where there are six players, than safety, where there are four. One of those six corners, however, is Danny Gorrer, who recently underwent surgery to repair a groin injury and may be out a few more weeks.
The cutdown to 53 also resolved some long-running competitions in the special teams phase of the game. Lindell, the long-time Buffalo kicker who was signed one day after his release by the Bills, gets the job of replacing the injured Connor Barth as the rookie Dimke, a standout for much of training camp, was waived. Page is likely to assume both the kickoff and punt return jobs after a very strong preseason performance. The Bucs kept two long-snappers throughout the offseason and right up to the final cuts but will stick with stalwart veteran Andrew Economos.
Of course, it is worth noting every year at this time that the term "final cuts" is a misnomer. The Buccaneers and every other team in the league will be tweaking their rosters throughout the entire season, and the days immediately following the cutdown to 53 are some of the most active. With hundreds of new names on the waiver wire, there will surely be a second wave of claims across the league on Sunday. The Buccaneers have been active in that process – what General Manager Mark Dominik likes to call the "second draft" – in recent years.