TAMPA — Several months ago, the Bucs informed Michael Clayton of their plans to trade him, but there have been no takers.
The receiver's $3.5 million salary is guaranteed, but his spot on the roster is not.
Then during Saturday night's third preseason game, Clayton never left the bench against the Jaguars. After the game, he showered anyway. "Force of habit," Clayton said.
Whether his career in Tampa Bay is washed up remains to be seen. Clayton, 27, refuses to believe it is.
What to do with Clayton and the other receivers is going to drive many of the roster decisions the Bucs have to make to reach the 53-man limit by Saturday.
"When there was trade talk a few months ago, (offensive coordinator Greg) Olson came and told me, 'Hey, we're going to try and shop you around and see what's out there,' " Clayton said. "I said, "Hey, I can understand that.'
"They've been totally honest and up front with me, which is another reason I've been able to keep a cool mind in this thing. … At this point, the only thing I can control is what I can control, and that's getting ready to play."
The only receivers guaranteed spots are rookies Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn, and second-year pro Sammie Stroughter. How many other receivers the Bucs decide to keep depends on how effective the players can be on special teams.
In that context, it's a deep group. Micheal Spurlock has returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in his on-again, off-again career with the Bucs. Undrafted free agent Preston Parker, who played at Florida State, has been working as the No. 1 kickoff returner and can also cover kicks.
"The receiver position has been driving the bus all offseason," coach Raheem Morris said, "not only with effort, but they're going to drive the 53-man roster as well. … In the past, we've always had good wideouts, but you might say, 'He doesn't help us on special teams.' Right now we've got a bunch of guys that absolutely can play special teams at a bunch of different positions.
"The (defensive backs) used to own the extra slots. But I've got some receivers on this team that are tough, that can tackle. I've got some receivers on this team that don't mind blocking, that don't mind mixing it up. They're starting to show their skill level and development."
Tuesday, the Bucs released running back Derrick Ward. That may bode well for Kareem Huggins, who leads the Bucs in rushing this preseason with 97 yards. But it isn't necessarily good news for Clifton Smith, who primarily is a kick returner and likely is battling Spurlock for a roster spot.
Veteran receiver Maurice Stovall, who missed the past two preseason games with an ankle injury, will not play tonight at Houston in the preseason finale. Stovall has battled injuries his entire career, but he is among the Bucs' top special teams players on kick coverage.
No player has had a better attitude this offseason than Clayton. He hasn't missed a practice and has spent many hours off the field helping Williams and the other young receivers. But after signing a five-year, $26 million contract with $10 million guaranteed, Clayton caught just 16 passes for 230 yards and one touchdown last season.
Clayton doesn't expect to be on the field for long tonight.
"You look at all scenarios, and anything could happen," he said. "If it was a trade scenario, they don't want me to get hurt. So I don't think I'll play much."
Does Clayton consider tonight's game his last in red and pewter?
"I don't believe that. I'll believe it when it happens," he said. "But I can't see it. I can't even live in that world."