The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' preseason has come to its conclusion, and now, only roster cuts stand between the reigning Super Bowl champions and their week one contest against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football.
The roster cuts, however, are one of the toughest parts of the job for any NFL head coach or personnel member. Each team will trim their rosters from 80 players to 53 by Tuesday's 4 P.M. deadline, and in some cases, teams will be forced to sacrifice talented players and end the NFL dreams of others.
"The next one's the hardest," Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said last week of roster cutdowns. "When you release that many guys, then you hold your breath to hopefully get some of them back on our practice squad. Our practice squad is a lot of the jobs that are up for grabs, and those guys played a lot for us last year, being able to elevate them on game day with those new rules. So our practice squad is extremely important to us."
Tampa Bay, specifically, will have to let go of potential playmakers as the Buccaneers' roster is one of the most talented in the league, if not the toughest.
We've compiled our final Buccaneers roster projection below. There aren't too many surprises to be found in our prediction, but as a whole, we can see Tampa Bay releasing several long-time team members as well as two 2021 draft picks.
Kyle Trask (rookie)
Running back (4)
Ronald Jones II
Wide receiver (6)
Jaelon Darden (rookie)
Tight end (4)
Offensive line (9)
Robert Hainsey (rookie)
Defensive line (7)
Outside linebacker/edge rusher (4)
Joe Tryon (rookie)
Inside linebacker (4)
K.J. Britt (rookie)
Carlton Davis III
Antoine Winfield Jr.
Kicker - Ryan Succop
Punter - Bradley Pinion
Long snapper - Zach Triner
Tough cuts and practice squad candidates
Quarterback Ryan Griffin: As tough as it may be to release a dependable backup who has been with the team for six years, the writing was on the wall for Griffin's release as soon as the Buccaneers drafted Kyle Trask in the second round. Blaine Gabbert earned the No. 2 role once again with better play than Griffin this preseason.
Wide receiver Jaydon Mickens: With Scotty Miller and Jaelon Darden on the roster, serving as wide receivers and able returners, there simply isn't room to keep Tampa Bay's starting returner from a year ago around. There's risk in cutting Mickens as Darden and Miller aren't as polished on special teams, but it's a risk the Buccaneers should be willing to take as Miller is the best receiver of the three, while Darden was Tampa Bay's fourth-round pick this year.
Tight end Tanner Hudson: Hudson was Tampa Bay's leading receiver in the first two preseason games, but saw his role reduced in week three. Arians has been vocally critical of Hudson's blocking issues this offseason, despite his pass-game production, meaning it would not be a surprise to see Tampa Bay take a chance on the lesser-experienced Codey McElroy at tight end No. 4.
Offensive lineman Earl Watford: Watford is a practice squad candidate and someone that the Buccaneers know they can rely on. He's signed with Tampa Bay off the street more than once before and immediately took the field after signing, displaying versatility as he can play guard and tackle. There's a chance he makes the roster over Leverett due to his experience, although Leverett has impressed this summer and possesses even more flexibility as he can move to center when needed.
Inside linebacker Grant Stuard: The rookie linebacker has impressive speed and downhill explosion, but lacks coverage skills and has a knack for playing too freely. Stuard is certainly a practice squad candidate as Arians suggested after the Titans game that he was in contention to make the roster.
Safety Javon Hagan: Hagan had some good moments in training camp and throughout the preseason, but with Ross Cockrell being capable of sliding to safety in a pinch, we believe the Buccaneers will keep their safety numbers slim and keep a roster spot open for someone at a different position.
Stay tuned to AllBucs for further coverage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' preseason updates, and other news and analysis. Follow along on social media at @SIBuccaneers on Twitter and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sports Illustrated on Facebook.