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Bucs release former first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves

Tampa Bay selected the former Florida Gators and Wharton High star with the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon III Hargreaves (28) on the field during warmups before the Bucs game against the San Francisco 49ers at Raymond James Stadium on September 8, 2019 in Tampa, FL. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon III Hargreaves (28) on the field during warmups before the Bucs game against the San Francisco 49ers at Raymond James Stadium on September 8, 2019 in Tampa, FL. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Nov. 12
Updated Nov. 12

TAMPA — Two days after he was benched for not hustling to a make a tackle, the Bucs released starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves Tuesday morning.

The 11th overall pick in 2016 from the University of Florida, Hargreaves struggled to hold up his reputation as a ball hawk in the NFL with only two career interceptions in four seasons.

Hargreaves was informed of the decision Tuesday morning at the team’s training facility by general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians.

The decision to release Hargreaves has a financial component. The Bucs picked up Hargreaves’ fifth-year option for $9 million for 2020 that is guaranteed only against injury. The Bucs also have liked the improvement of rookie cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting.

“After thoughtful consideration over the past few weeks, Bruce and I came to the conclusion that we needed to make this change,” said Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht in a statement Tuesday morning. “Decisions such as this are always difficult, but I felt it was in the best interest of our team to part ways with Vernon at this time and allow him to explore other opportunities. We are disappointed that it did not work out here for Vernon and we wish him continued success moving forward.”

Hargreaves was benched in the third quarter of Sunday’s 30-27 win over the Cardinals after not hustling to make a tackle on what became a 55-yard completion to receiver Andy Isabella. Cornerback Ryan Smith, now the last member of the Bucs’ 2016 draft class on the roster, replaced Hargreaves but gave up a touchdown pass.

Eventually, Dean entered the game in the fourth quarter and intercepted Cardinals quarterback Kyle Murray at the Tampa Bay 8-yard line to set up the Bucs’ game-winning touchdown drive.

After the game, Hargreaves said he did not object to the benching.

“There’s no argument,” said Hargreaves, who later re-entered the game. “I need to hustle. Point blank, end of discussion. I’ll get better. I’m sure I’ll talk with them this week and get things straight and see where we’re going.“

Hargreaves, 24, is the veteran of a defensive backs group on a team that ranks last in the NFL in pass defense (298.9 yards per game) and scoring (31.0).

He suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the 2018 opener at New Orleans.

Hargreaves was a standout at Wharton High School in Tampa and a two-time All-American at Florida. The Bucs selected the 5-foot-11, 204-pound cornerback the pick after the New York Giants selected Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple. Hargreaves started 33 career games for the Bucs, recording 164 career tackles, two interceptions and 19 passes defensed.

Hargreaves had an interception return for a touchdown in the season- opening loss to the 49ers and made the game-clinching tackle against Christian McCaffrey in a win at Carolina.

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud

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