DT Dre Moore is the second of the Bucs' seven 2008 draft picks to finalize his first NFL contract
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cancelled their final pair of mini-camp practices on a rainy Thursday at team headquarters, so the last order of business was a short round of morning meetings. Almost all of the players were out of the building by 11:00 a.m., with nothing left on the offseason schedule between then and the beginning of training camp on July 25.
There is still a bit of roster shaping to take care of before camp, however, and the Buccaneers began that work on Friday. Most importantly, the team got another one of its draft picks under contract with the signing of defensive tackle Dre Moore, a fourth-round choice out of Maryland.
In addition, the Bucs released seven players, including veteran defensive end Patrick Chukwurah.
The Bucs opened their mandatory mini-camp this week with 91 players, of which they may bring only 80 to training camp. Friday's cuts were the first step in getting down to that camp maximum.
In addition to Chukwurah, who played nine games for Tampa Bay last season while struggling to overcome a series of injuries, the team also released defensive end Marquies Gunn, tight end Keith Heinrich, wide receiver Amarri Jackson, linebacker Leon Joe, wide receiver Charles Spiller and fullback Carl Stewart.
Chukwurah, Heinrich and Joe are veterans with five or more years of accrued NFL seasons; the other four are rookies or first-year players. Chukwurah joined the team as an unrestricted free agent last spring while Heinrich has split time between the Bucs' practice squad and active roster the last two years. Joe was briefly on Tampa Bay's roster last September after being claimed off waivers, then was signed again on March 24.
Spiller, a first-year wideout out of Alcorn State, spent most of the offseason working with the team after signing in January. Stewart, a fullback from Auburn, was one of five undrafted rookies the team signed immediately after the 2008 draft. And Jackson got his invite to the 80-man roster after performing well on a tryout contract in the team's post-draft rookie mini-camp. Jackson had played his college ball at nearby University of South Florida after starring as a prep at Riverview High School.
The Buccaneers still must trim the roster by four players before the starting of training camp. They had been able to work with more than 80 players for much of the offseason because unsigned players – such as draft picks and exclusive rights free agents who haven't signed their tender offers – do not count against the limit. However, only signed players may report to training camp, so that 80-man maximum will be effect at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex. With the demise of NFL Europa, there will be no roster exemptions to push the attendance closer to 90 players.
Head Coach Jon Gruden has made his distaste for the 80-man camp limit clear on more than one occasion. Friday's round of cuts was one he would have rather not made at this point in the year.
"We [had] some tough calls," said Gruden. "When the rookies sign, they obviously have to have room on the roster to come to camp, so there's some tough decisions. It's emotional for me, because you haven't seen these guys out here in April, May and June, but they've been out here working hard. You'd like to afford them an opportunity to benefit from the hard work."
Moore made sure his opportunity will start with the opening day of camp, as he joined seventh-round running back Cory Boyd as the first two 2008 draftees to ink their initial NFL deals. The Bucs still must come to contract agreement with first-round cornerback Aqib Talib, second-round wide receiver Dexter Jackson, third-round guard Jeremy Zuttah, fifth-round quarterback Josh Johnson and sixth-round linebacker Geno Hayes. The Buccaneers have not had a significant rookie holdout since the last millennium.