The Buccaneers toyed with the idea of releasing cornerback Alterraun Verner during training camp last year, but held on when they decided to start him at right outside corner while they eased rookie Vernon Hargreaves into the lineup at slot corner.
Hargreaves developed rather quickly, though, and when he started to take snaps from Verner on the outside while yielding the slot duties to Jude Adjei-Barimah, Verner became less and less of a necessity and now the Bucs have deemed him expendable altogether.
The Bucs on Thursday released Verner, a move that will save them $6.5 million in cap space.
The move may not mean the end for Verner as a Buccaneer. Though he’s never played to the Pro Bowl level he attained in the year before he signed with the Bucs in 2014, Verner could still provide some valuable depth at a spot where teams never seem to have enough depth.
There’s a chance, though, that the Bucs will simply move on. After all, their startking corners are seemingly in place with Brent Grimes slated to once again work the left side while Hargreaves works the right and Adjei-Barimah returns to man the slot.
Verner did provide the most emotional on the field moment for the Bucs in their 2016 season, when he set the tone for a dominant defensive performance at home in November against Seattle. Just two days after the sudden death of his father, Verner jumped in front of a Russell Wilson first half pass (above) for an interception and broke down in tears on the field and the sideline with teammates consoling him. It turned out to be a galvanizing moment in a 14-5 victory where the Buccaneers defense completely stuffed the Seahawks.
As for depth, the Bucs have decided that Ryan Smith, a 2016 fourth-round draft pick who spent most of last year working at safety, is better suited to play corner. He’ll make the move back to his old spot this year and there’s a good chance reserve Josh Robinson will be re-signed.
The release of Verner, meanwhile, may be just the first of several roster extractions the Bucs make before the start of the new league year. There’s a chance center/guard Evan Smith and defensive end George Johnson could be let go as well in the coming days.
Smith has proved to be a valuable reserve and fill-in starter at both guard and center but his $4.5 million payout for 2017 includes a $1 million roster bonus and may be deemed a bit pricey for a player who is not expected to start.
Johnson’s situation is similar. He’s due to make $2.5 million this year, which is not exorbitant for a pass rusher, but the Bucs have decided that he too is little more than a rotational player and may decide to let him go after obtaining him in a trade in 2015.
It’s now believed with the Verner release, the Bucs have around a whopping $70 million under the 2017 salary cap to spend come March and beyond.