The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made their first set of NFL-mandated roster cuts Tuesday, trimming their roster from 91 to 76 players. Each team was required to trim their rosters down to 65 players, but the Bucs have 11 NFL Europe exemptions.

The biggest name of the group of players released by Tampa Bay on Tuesday was running back Charlie Garner, who has been sidelined since Week 3 of the 2004 season with a torn right patella tendon.

The 33-year-old Garner signed a six-year contract with the Bucs during the 2004 offseason after spending three productive seasons in Oakland. While Garner’s deal included a $3.7 million signing bonus, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen restructured the deal during the offseason in an effort to create some much-needed salary cap room.

His base salary was reduced to $800,000 this season, but after spending the offseason and training camp rehabbing his knee on the physically unable to perform list, Garner recently failed a physical, which prompted Tampa Bay to release him Tuesday.

“The options were that we keep him on the PUP and that wasn’t going to work based on our numbers of players and the cap at this point,” said Allen. “He has worked very, very hard to rehabilitate himself from a devastating injury. I don’t think this is the last of Charlie Garner. He’s too much of a competitor to end his career like this.”

The Bucs cleared out approximately $200,000 in salary cap room for this season by releasing Garner. However, in 2005 Tampa Bay will take a $2.464 million cap hit, which represents the remaining porition of Garner’s prorated signing bonus.

Even if Garner was healthy enough to play, Tampa Bay’s backfield might have been too crowded for him to make the active roster. The Bucs currently have first-round pick Cadillac Williams, Michael Pittman, Earnest Graham and Derek Watson, and fullbacks Mike Alstott, Jameel Cook and Rick Razzano on their roster. At least five of those players figure to make the Bucs’ 53-man roster this season.

“I like this running game,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, whose offenses have finished the past three seasons ranked 29th, 24th and 27th, respectively, in the running game. “We’ve run the ball with a commitment and we’ve run the ball with purpose, and we run the ball hard. We might not have the best rushing attack in the NFL, but we might, who knows? But I’ll tell you this: These guys have run the ball with authority…the runners, I’m talking about. We hope to get [Mike] Alstott some carries against Houston. He needs to carry the ball. But we’ve been pleased.”

In addition to Garner, the Bucs released quarterback Jared Allen, guards Phil Bogle and Doug Buckles, wide receivers Chris Davis, Derrick Lewis and Kevin Youngblood, defensive tackles Damian Gregory and Lynn McGruder, defensive end Bryant McNeal, linebacker Byron “Bam” Hardmon, fullback Steve Kriewald, long snapper Brian Sawyer, running back Ian Smart, cornerback Ronyell Whitaker and tackle Sam Wilder.

“It’s difficult,” Gruden said making the roster cuts. “It’s an emotional decision, and there have been some tough decisions. But that’s understood when we embark on this, that we can only keep so many guys. Unfortunately, this is the time where we have to reduce our roster, and some players won’t be able to continue.

“Hopefully some of these guys can catch on with other teams. Who knows, maybe at some point we’ll bring them back because there was a lot of time invested and they did learn stuff.”

Tampa Bay was only required to release 15 players this afternoon, but it cut one extra player in order to acquire former San Francisco 49ers defensive end Andrew Williams off waivers.

The 6-foot-2, 280-pound Williams entered the NFL in 2003 as a third-round draft pick of San Francisco. He is a Tampa native and played collegiately at the University of Miami.

In two seasons with the 49ers, Williams played in 10 games (three starts) and notched 16 tackles despite missing a total of nine contests in 2004 with a broken leg.

The 49ers were attempting to convert Williams to linebacker in their new, 3-4 defensive scheme, but the Bucs plan to use him as a defensive end.

Tampa Bay will play its preseason finale against the Houston Texans on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs have until Saturday to release 23 more players and form their 53-man roster.

Bucs Roster Cuts:
QB Jared Allen
G Phil Bogle
G Doug Buckles
WR Chris Davis
DT Damian Gregory (waived/injured)
RB Charlie Garner (released from PUP – failed physical)
LB Byron Hardmon
FB Steve Kriewald
WR Derrick Lewis
DT Lynn McGruder
DE Bryant McNeal
LS Brian Sawyer
RB Ian Smart
CB Ronyell Whitaker
T Sam Wilder
WR Kevin Youngblood

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