At the end of the 2016 preseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to have to cut some 37 players to get to a 53-man roster. Those cuts are more or less predictable, but a few of them are a surprise every year. Which veteran is on the roster bubble this year
ESPN listed a player on the 53-man roster bubble for every NFL team, and Mike DiRocco named Alterraun Verner as the Bucs player who will have to stand out to hang on to his roster spot.
Verner was a Pro Bowler with Tennessee but was benched last season for inconsistent play and was on the field mainly as a slot cornerback. He has three interceptions and 13 pass breakups in two seasons with the Bucs and is due to make $6.75 million in 2016. The Bucs also signed CB Brent Grimes in free agency and drafted Vernon Hargreaves III in the first round. -- Mike DiRocco
While listing Verner makes some sense from a salary standpoint, it's not particularly likely right now: he's currently one of the team's two starting cornerbacks alongside veteran Brent Grimes, with rookie Vernon Hargreaves set to be the team's third cornerback. Verner's likely to get a lot of playing time in the slot even if he doesn't end up starting, and the Bucs don't quite have the depth to just say goodbye to him.
One thing to probably keep him on the roster is the fact that Johnthan Banks struggled last year, and hasn't been able to rise up the depth chart so far this offseason. The Bucs have targeted relatively small cornerbacks this offseason, adding Brent Grimes (5'10") and Vernon Hargreaves (5'10") and pushing Verner (5'10") into a starting role. In fact, the only cornerback taller than 5'10" on Tampa Bay's roster is Banks -- who has apparently fallen out of favor.
General manager Jason Licht recently defended targeting those smaller cornerbacks to Scott Reynolds of Pewter Report.
When you go into it saying, ‘Our corners have to be 6-foot or taller,’ a lot of times you are limiting the players you can bring in and you are pigeonholing yourself into taking corners that don’t have quick transition, that don’t have quick change of direction, that don’t have great ball skills. They just have size. It works for certain schemes where they can get away with a guy that they’re asking to get on the line of scrimmage and not let the receiver get off the line. I don’t think that’s what we’re asking our corners to do full time.
But height is important. You can have the world's best athlete at cornerback, but he's going to have a hard time competing for the ball with a 6'5" receiver if he's only 5'10". That may end up hurting the Bucs, who play in the same division as Kelvin Benjamin and Julio Jones, among many others. Then again, the NFL's recent disdain for shorter cornerbacks has also created a possible market inefficiency, making them a lot cheaper than taller cornerbacks. It's a strategy the Bucs used to build their Super Bowl team: emphasize the defensive line, and line up shorter, less physically imposing cornerbacks who have the athleticism and fluidity to excel in their scheme.
It's ironic, then, that the Bucs are moving to that strategy after saying goodbye to Lovie Smith, who was as close to the old Tampa 2 strategy as any defensive coordinator in the NFL. In fact, most coordinators who run a Tampa-2 style defense (that is: fairly static, zone-based defenses who don't show a lot of play-to-play variation) have actually preferred taller cornerbacks: think of the Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons.
The Bucs are going in a different direction. They seem to be betting on fluidity, speed and competitive ball skills to keep up with the massive receivers they'll be facing. We'll have to wait and see whether that will actually work.