In recent years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have used just about every method available to stock their roster. They've selected players in the draft and dipped into free agency, of course, but they've also traded for veterans (e.g. Jason Pierre-Paul), traded for more picks to add rookies (e.g. M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis), promoted prospects from the prospect squad (e.g. Cameron Brate), claimed players off waivers (e.g. Ryan Griffin) and snapped up veterans after they were released for cap reasons (e.g. Vinny Curry). The Bucs even tried the relatively rare move of signing away a restricted free agent three years ago – Detroit defensive end George Johnson – though that transaction eventually morphed into another trade.
There is, however, one player pool into which the Buccaneers have not dipped in a very long time. The NFL will hold its annual Supplemental Draft on Wednesday, and if Tampa Bay sits it out again it will mark the 32nd straight year the team has passed on this particular avenue of player acquisition.
Chances are, that streak will continue, even though this year's Supplemental Draft does have some players that are deemed potentially worthy of selection. The last time a player was chosen by any team in the Supplemental Draft was in 2015, when the St. Louis Rams used a fifth-round pick on Clemson offensive tackle Isaiah Battle. Battle has bounced around from the Rams to the Chiefs to the Seahawks Fbut has yet to see action in a regular-season game.
The Buccaneers, meanwhile, haven't picked in the Supplemental Draft since 1987, when they took Miami defensive tackle Dan Sileo. Nothing about that experience would push the Bucs to take part again, as Sileo appeared in all of 10 games for the Buccaneers and never played again in the NFL after that '87 campaign.
The Bucs' Supplemental Draft drought is not particularly unusual; the teams in their own division have been just as quiet, for instance. The last (and only) time the New Orleans Saints made a pick in this draft was in 1981, when they spent a first-rounder on quarterback Dave Wilson. The last (and only) time the Atlanta Falcons did so was in 1980, when they threw a seventh-rounder at defensive end Matthew Teague. The Carolina Panthers haven't been around as long, joining the league in 1995, but they have never made a Supplemental Draft pick. Almost every team in the league has made a Supplemental Draft pick at some point in its history, since the process first began in 1977, but few have gone back to the well often. The Dallas Cowboys have done it five times and the San Diego Chargers three but no other team has made more than two Supplemental Draft picks.
One or two teams could pad those totals this year, however, perhaps even the Buccaneers. There are five players eligible for selection and three of them are defensive backs who have drawn enough interest to suggest they may find a team on Wednesday. Cornerbacks Sam Beal of Western Michigan and Adonis Alexander of Virginia Tech drew multiple scouts to their pre-draft workouts and play a position at which teams are often scrambling for depth. Mississippi State safety Brandon Bryant has speed and leaping ability and could easily make an early impact on special teams.
The other two players available are less likely to be drafted Wednesday: Grand Valley State running back Marty Carter and Oregon State linebacker Bright Ugwoegbu.
The upside to selecting an intriguing prospect in the Supplemental Draft is that it is essentially the last opportunity to find a difference-making talent before the start of training camp. The downside is the cost – teams that use a pick in the Supplemental Draft forfeit their pick in the matching round in next year's regular draft. When the Buccaneers took Sileo in 1987 they used a third-round pick, which left them without that same pick in the spring of 1988. That was a shame because it would have been the second selection of that round, number 57 overall.
If the Buccaneers or any team selects a player in this year's Supplemental Draft, it will happen quietly. The draft is conducted via email after the order is determined using a weighted lottery system based on last year's standings. Each team gets a chance to put in a bid or bids on players at the beginning of each round. If a player is not selected in the first round, the process repeats in the second round, and so on. So the Buccaneers could choose to put, say, a fourth-round pick on Beal if he is still available, and if no other team does so they would get their man. If multiple teams put in a bid in the same round, the player goes to the team with the highest pick.
The highest-profile supplemental pick of recent vintage would be Josh Gordon, the Baylor receiver taken by Cleveland with a second-round pick in 2012. Gordon has been very productive when on the field but has missed huge portions of his career due to off-field issues; he returned to the field last year after sitting out nearly three seasons. The Raiders selected Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor in the third round of the 2011 Supplemental Draft and Pryor has since converted to receiver and had a big year for the Browns in 2016.
The most famous Supplemental Draft was the one conducted in 1985, when University of Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar ended up with the Cleveland Browns, his preferred destination. Kosar's agent helped engineer a trade of the top Supplemental Draft pick from Buffalo to Cleveland, after which Kosar declared himself eligible. That turn of events angered several other teams and directly led to a change in the way the Supplemental Draft is conducted. (It also indirectly affected the Buccaneers, who ended up picking first in the 1986 draft because Cleveland's would-be first-overall pick was forfeited; the Bucs took Auburn running back Bo Jackson, who refused to come to Tampa and chose to play baseball instead.)
There have been eight players who entered the league as first-round picks in the Supplemental Draft, most of them quarterbacks and most during the 1980s. That list started with Wilson to New Orleans, as noted above, and then continued with Kosar in 1985. It also includes colorful Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth (to Seattle) in 1987, Miami quarterback Steve Walsh (to Dallas) in 1989, Washington State quarterback Timm Rosenbach (to Phoenix) in 1989, Alabama running back Bobby Humphrey (to Denver) in 1989, Syracuse wide receiver Rob Moore (to the N.Y. Jets) in 1990 and Duke quarterback Dave Brown (to the N.Y. Giants) in 1992.
Kosar, Humphrey and Moore are among the supplemental picks that worked out well for their teams, as was Navy offensive lineman Mike Wahle to Green Bay in 1998. The most decorated player to come out of the Supplemental Draft, however, is probably Cris Carter, the former Ohio State receiver who started out with the Eagles but became a star in Minnesota. Carter was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
Players typically end up in the Supplemental Draft because of a change in eligibility at their schools, perhaps due to academic reasons or off-field issues. Players in this position will sometimes choose to accelerate their path to the pros, rather than waiting a whole extra year to enter the regular draft. Even if the five players eligible this year aren't drafted, once the draft is over they will be free to sign with any team they want as a rookie free agent.
Chances are that Beal, Alexander and the rest will get a shot somewhere in the NFL, whether any teams try to draft them on Wednesday or not. If the Buccaneers' historical trend holds true, chances are they will not be selecting any players on Wednesday.