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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cap Considerations | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about the practice squad and the salary cap, Calijah Kancey's progress, favorite Week One memories and more


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster has undergone something of a youth movement in 2023, with a handful of seasoned veterans released in March in cap-related moves and, notably, a whopping 13 rookies making the 53-man roster. General Manager Jason Licht said he and the rest of the Buccaneers' brain trust didn't intentionally set out to make the roster younger this year – it wasn't some sort of team-building edict – and of course there is no guarantee that all 13 of those rookies, six of whom were undrafted free agents, will be on the roster for the entire season. Still, it's a group that has coaches and personnel staffers energized with the prospect of developing a lot of young talent.

"We knew that there would be a lot of opportunity for new faces, but if you would've told me back in April that we'd keep six undrafted rookies, I probably would've thought you were crazy," said Licht after the cutdown date. "But it worked out. All of these guys, they really exceeded our expectations or played very well throughout the offseason, and we're excited about every single one of them. I think a lot of them are going to play big roles for us. Obviously, you know right now where most of them stand on the roster. It's an exciting time. Whenever you have a young team and are thinking you can compete with that young team, it's great. It worked out well for us. We're paying the bills right now."

Some of the half-dozen undrafted rookies to make the team have already locked down sizeable roles. Safety Christian Izien has been named the first-team nickel corner. Sean Tucker landed second on the running back depth chart, just behind Rachaad White, which suggests plenty of action on game days. Wide receiver Rakim Jarrett is one of only five receivers on the 53-man roster, so there's a strong chance he'll be active on game days. Outside linebacker Markees Watts, safety Kaevon Merriweather and cornerback Derrek Pitts could all find work on special teams right away.

Which got me thinking…how much should we expect from this oversized group of undrafted newcomers? What kind of bars would they have to clear to rank as some of the most impactful undrafted rookies in franchise history. To answer that second question, I looked up the leaders in a variety of statistical categories among this category of player in Bucs franchise history.

To be clear, in order to qualify for this exercise, the player had to be in his very first year in the NFL and had to have gone undrafted before signing with the Buccaneers. A player like current defensive lineman Mike Greene, who signed with the Bucs as an undrafted free agent last year and made the team this year after a season on the practice squad, would not count. A player still qualifies if he was with another team before signing with the Bucs, as long he is still in his first year in the league. One example, running back LeGarrette Blount, makes our list below. Oh, and I also did not include players who played in the three replacement games during the players' strike in 1987.

So here's what I found.

Passing Yards: There is almost nothing to go with here. Mike Hold is the leader with 123 yards in 1987, but he was a replacement player and thus does not count. Amazingly, the actual leader isn't even a quarterback. It's wide receiver Lee McGriff, who played in six games in the Bucs' inaugural 1976 season. He never caught a pass, but he did throw one and completed it for 39 yards. The only other undrafted player with rookie-year passing yards for the Buccaneers is Scott Milanovich, who completed two of four passes for nine yards in his only career game in 1996.

Rushing Yards: Here's where LeGarrette Blount comes in. He signed first with the Tennessee Titans after going undrafted in 2010 but was waived in the roster cutdown to 53 and then claimed by the Buccaneers. He made the team and ended up starting seven games while recording 201 carries for 1,007 yards. Next on the list is Nathan Wonsley, a nice undrafted find in 1986 who had 339 yards, including two 100-yard games, but saw his career end prematurely with a neck injury.

Receiving Yards: The Buccaneers brought in Rutgers wide receiver Tim Wright in 2013 and converted him to a tight end, and he promptly set franchise rookie receiving records at the position with 54 catches for 571 yards. Next on the list is Calvin Magee, another tight end who had 288 receiving yards in 1985. The first wideout on the list is Adam Humphries, with 260 yards in 2015.

Touchdowns: Blount leads the way with six in 2010, followed by Wright with five in 2013.

Points Scored: The Bucs signed kicker Steve Christie out of William & Mary in 1990 and he promptly had the best season by a Tampa Bay kicker to that point in franchise history. Christie made 23 of 27 field goals on the way to 96 points as a rookie. He had another good year in 1991 but the Bucs lost him to Buffalo when they tried to slide him through the ancient Plan B free agency system unprotected.

Tackles: It should be noted that information in this category only goes back to 1987, and that I am using Pro Football Reference totals, which don't always match what the team kept back in those days. Anyway, using those figures the leader is safety Odie Harris, who had 46 tackles in 1988.

Sacks: Jacquies Smith (6.5) and Howard Jones (5.0) don't count because they had been in the league for at least a year each prior to landing in Tampa. That gets us down to linebacker Cecil Johnson, who had 3.5 sacks in 1977, even though that wasn't an official statistic until 1982. Next on the list is Shawn Price, with 3.0 in 1993.

Interceptions: This one was set relatively recently, when cornerback Leonard Johnson, a Bay area native, snagged three interceptions as an undrafted rookie in 2012. Vito McKeever did the same thing in 1986 but had played two seasons in the USFL before coming to the Buccaneers, so I didn't count him. Paul Tripoli played in the 1987 replacement games and then did also play in the last 10 contests after the strike ended, which tempted me to make him eligible. However, all three of his interceptions came in those replacement games, so I'm leaving Johnson as the lone winner here.

Sean Tucker might have a hard time catching Blount's rushing total, but there are some otherwise achievable marks there. Let's hope some of these exciting new rookies challenge them.

Now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me any time you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to

Do practice squad players count against the cap space?

- @cjprescott2000 (via Instagram)

This is a good question, C.J., and one that technically would have had a different answer just two days ago.

See, from the first day of the league calendar year, which begins in March each spring, through Wednesday of the first week of the regular season, a team's salary cap figure is calculated by adding up the totals from its top 51 player salaries. That's to aide teams in carrying 90 players throughout the offseason and the preseason.

However, at 4:00 p.m. ET on that Week One Wednesday, the calculation changes. Now a team's cap total includes allplayers it has in its employment, including the 53-man roster, the 16-man practice squad and any players who are on injured reserve or other reserve lists. For the Bucs right now, that lattermost category includes center Ryan Jensen and wide receiver Russell Gage, both of whom signed fairly significant free agency deals in 2022.

So that Wednesday becomes a significant date for some teams. If a team happens to have only a small amount of space left under the salary cap, as has been the case for the Buccaneers this whole league year, that shift from counting 51 players to counting – in this case – 69 players can put them over the limit. It is not uncommon for a team to have to do a contract restructure or two with its players to create some immediate cap space.

When Tampa was first getting an NFL team, what other team names were being considered?

- @sundancekidiv (via Instagram)

You know, I've been around here for a long time, but I don't go that far back.

Apparently, the NFL's 27th franchise, which was formally awarded in 1974 though the team did not begin play until 1976, held a contest in 1975 to come up with a nickname and more than 400 options were reviewed. According to the team's records, the final choice was made by an advisory board that included team owner Hugh Culverhouse and local sportswriters.

I've seen this same information repeated in a lot of sources. What is much harder to find is a list of the proposed names that were not chosen. I was only able to come up with three: Sailors, Buzzards and Coastal Tides. Can you imagine if they had named the team the Tampa Bay Coastal Tides? I'm feeling pretty good about the work done by that advisory board.

Calijah Kancey Update?

- @Wilson_wildin_ (via Instagram)

Calijah Kancey, the team's first-round draft pick in April, suffered a calf injury early in training camp and was out for all three preseason games. At the time, he was given a prognosis of three weeks, which definitely would have had him back in time for the start of the regular season. It's actually been about five weeks since then, so there's reason to be optimistic about him being back on the field soon.

It didn't happen on Wednesday, though. Kancey was still watching on the sideline as the Buccaneers began their preparations for Sunday's game against Minnesota. However, that may not be the end of the story. After practice, Head Coach Todd Bowles said that Kancey still has a chance to play on Sunday and that he has not been ruled out. That suggests that if the former Pitt star is able to get out on the practice field on Thursday and/or Friday, and he suffers no setback, he could be in uniform in Minnesota.

You may be reading this on Thursday morning before the team's next practice. If so, check back on in the afternoon for another update from Coach Bowles and, eventually, the second injury report of the week.

Has any team this century started the season with zero captains?

- @kosmic_tom (via Instagram)

I cannot think of a way to research this for all 32 teams. I don't think there's a database of team captains through the years and when they were announced. I do believe this is the first time since I've worked for the Buccaneers that they have not named the captains at the start of the season. Last year, Head Coach Todd Bowles announced the offensive and defensive captains in Week One but said the team would wait and see who emerges as a captain on special teams. In the end, no special teams captain was selected.

So why did I include this question if I don't have the answer. Well, I thought it would at least be instructive to know whythe team is going to wait until at least a few weeks into the season to name its captains this year. Bowles was asked that question on Wednesday and this was his answer:

"Since everybody wasn't here in the spring, you want to see how everybody jells together and you want to wait a while until you make a decision because the other guys are still getting to know everybody. You want to make a rational decision, so we're going to wait for a little while."

With week one approaching, what is one of the most memorable week one games you have covered?

- Zach B., via email

I was pretty surprised to get this email for the mailbag because I also received practically the same question for our Salty Dogs podcast this week. (Check it out!) With the help of the original questioner, who laid out some very good options in his email, we came up with these options:

- 1997, Bucs beat 49ers, 13-6: This was my number-one choice. Though the franchise turnaround had begun in the second half of the 1996, Tony Dungy's first as head coach, it was the start to the 1997 season that really showed the Buccaneers to be contenders. This was the first of five straight wins to open the season on the way to a 10-6 record and a Wild Card berth. The Bucs' rising defense completely stymied a powerful 49ers offense led by Steve Young and Jerry Rice. Warren Sapp actually knocked both Young and Rice out of the game, though Young was able to come back in. (Rice would only play in one more game that season). And this wasn't a case of the 49ers simply not being as good as expected – they still went 13-3 in the regular season and made it to the NFC Championship Game.

- 2003, Bucs beat Eagles, 17-0: After "shutting down the Vet" while beating Philadelphia in the 2002 NFC Championship Game, the Buccaneers also spoiled the Eagles' regular-season debut in their new stadium, Lincoln Financial Field. Back then, the defending champs usually got a home Monday night game in Week One, but the NFL sent the Bucs on the road in order to spotlight that new stadium. Joe Jurevicius caught two touchdown passes, including one of the most acrobatic scores in team history, and the Bucs' defense looked like it might be even better in 2003 than during its magical 2002 season.

- 2005, Bucs beat Vikings, 24-13: This one was mainly memorable because rookie running back Cadillac Williams ran for 148 yards, including a game-clinching 71-yard touchdown. Brian Kelly had two interceptions off Daunte Culpepper and Derrick Brooks added a third.

- 2018, Bucs beat Saints, 48-40: Most of the readers out there probably remember this one. It was the highest scoring Week One game in NFL history and it began to stoke the legend of "Fitzmagic." That was quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was starting in place of a suspended Jameis Winston. Fitzpatrick threw four touchdown passes, including 58 and 50-yarders to DeSean Jackson, as the Bucs built a 48-24 lead by early in the fourth quarter in the Superdome. Tampa Bay then held on for dear life as Drew Brees and the Saints stormed back, closing the gap to one score before a key 12-yard scramble on third down by Fitzpatrick allowed it to run out the clock.

- 2021, Bucs beat Cowboys, 31-29: This time the defending champs did get to start the season at home, in what is now the traditional Thursday night Kickoff Game for the whole league. It was a thriller featuring 882 total yards of offense and four lead changes, two in the final two minutes of the game. Dallas took a 29-28 lead with 1:24 left, but the Bucs had Tom Brady on their side and thus more than a fighter's chance. Brady did what he usually did, calmly leading a 57-yard field goal drive keyed by completions of 20 yards to Rob Gronkowski and 24 to Chris Godwin. Ryan Succop won it with his 36-yarder.

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