TAMPA — A year ago, he was the league's most inspirational player who triumphed over tragedy to have his best performance in seven pro seasons.
But Matt Bryant is about to get kicked to the curb.
Bucs coach Raheem Morris called Bryant into his office Monday morning and informed the 34-year-old placekicker he needed to practice this week and play in the final preseason game Friday to have any chance of remaining with the team.
But Bryant says he needs another week for the injured hamstring on his right kicking leg to completely heal.
Rather than jeopardize his career, Bryant said Monday that his release by the Bucs might be better than rushing back into a competition with free agent Mike Nugent.
"I may wait," Bryant said. "The bigger picture is my career and me and my family. When I go out there, the next time I go to kick, there's a lot of contemplation going on this week between me, my family, my agent and whoever else about that. We're just talking it out and seeing what's best for Matt Bryant.
"I'm very close. It's going to sound weird because of the timing of the thing. But if I had another week, I think I could go out there with the mental standpoint of, you know what? It's fully healed. Here we go. Some people say that's easy to say because there's only one more week of the preseason. But that's just where it is."
Bryant kicked a winning field goal against the Packers on Sept. 28, one day after burying his infant son, Tryson.
He went on to his best season (32 of 38 field goals, 84.2 percent). But the Bucs signed Nugent, 27, a Jets free agent, who has struggled (4 of 7 field goals, 57.1 percent) after three preseason games.
"It was very surprising to me and a lot of people," Bryant said. "I can't tell you how many phone calls I got. Let's say I've come to figure out there are few things that you have control over. No matter right or wrong, how justified or unjustified it is, you don't have control over stuff like that."
Three weeks ago, Bryant felt a "pop" in his right hamstring after making a field goal during a training camp practice. The injury has prevented him from competing.
"Nothing tore or came off the bone, but I felt a pop," Bryant said. " … That sensation is not a pleasant feeling."
Bryant said he made adjustments in the offseason and was hitting the ball with more authority. He felt he was winning the competition before the injury.
"One hundred percent, vs. 80 percent, if you call that good competition," Bryant said. "Going throughout mandatory minicamp and the (training camp) here, I didn't miss a kick."
Bryant believes if the Bucs release him, he'll find a new team.
"It's hard to walk away from this team," Bryant said. "As a coach, as an organization, if you had a career 83 percent guy out there, you're going to take a look at him. Different people, friends and through other people throughout the league, it's been reconfirmed. It's just being able to get out there."
Morris was asked Monday whether Bryant still had a chance to remain with the team.
"You've got to make those decisions, but you can't make that one right now," Morris said. "I talked to him this morning. I'll let Matt share with you what he wants to as far as that. When I talked to him, he knows what he has to do. I believe he's going to do it. I just have to let him go out and compete and try to win the job. I can't tell you that there has even been a competition right now because Matt hasn't had the opportunity to go out and compete. I want to see him go out and compete. I want to see him go kick."