Jason Pierre-Paul has cleared the last hurdle in his potential return to the playing field.
On Saturday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers activated Pierre-Paul from the reserve/non-football injury (NFI) list, on which he had been placed at the start of the regular season. That means Pierre-Paul is eligible to play in Sunday's game at Tennessee, marking the soonest possible return after he was placed on the NFI list.
Pierre-Paul sustained a neck injury in a car accident in May. He missed the rest of the offseason program and started training camp on the active/NFI list before being moved to the reserve list. That latter move required him to miss at least the first six games of the season, but he was allowed to begin practicing after the sixth game, starting a 21-day window in which he was exempt from counting against the 53-man roster limit.
The Buccaneers did not have to make a corresponding move to add Pierre-Paul to the active roster because they been carrying only 52 players since releasing outside linebacker Devante Bond during the bye week. The deadline for either activating Pierre-Paul or leaving him on the reserve/NFI list for the rest of the season was Wednesday, November 6, but the Buccaneers didn't have to wait too long. That's a strong indication that Pierre-Paul will be among the 46 active players on Sunday against the Titans.
That would be a boon for a Buccaneers pass rush that is tied for 22nd in the NFL with 13 sacks. Nine of those belong to Shaq Barrett, who has been shut out in that department the past two weeks as opposing offenses have sent extra blockers in his direction. Carl Nassib is second on the team with two sacks, including one in the last game against Carolina. Pierre-Paul's presence would presumably help the rest of the Bucs' pass-rushers get more one-on-one opportunities.
And, of course, Pierre-Paul is a good bet to add to the Bucs' sack totals himself. He led the team with 12.5 sacks last season, becoming the first Buccaneer to record a 10-sack season since Simeon Rice in 2005. The Buccaneers' acquired the former first-round pick and two-time Pro Bowler in a trade with the New York Giants in 2018. Pierre-Paul, who played his college ball at nearby USF, has 71.0 career sacks, along with 129 quarterback hits, 490 tackles, 14 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries, 49 passes defensed and two interceptions.
This is the second time that Pierre-Paul has returned from an injury that could have been career-threatening. He suffered a severe right hand injury in a fireworks accident in the summer of 2015 but returned to play the final eight games of that season for the Giants. Over the next two seasons he played in 28 games and collected 15.5 sacks before his trade to the Buccaneers, for whom he played all 16 games last year.