TAMPA — Connor Barth had long since shaken off the effects of a season lost to an Achilles tendon injury and was preparing again Friday for what he is sure will be a comeback season in 2014 when he got the word:
His comeback will not take place with the Buccaneers.
The most accurate kicker in franchise history was among the 14 players let go as the Bucs began the always-difficult process of whittling their roster to the NFL’s 53-man maximum limit.
“Every year there are difficult decisions that need to be made during this time of year as we get down to our 53-man roster,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said in a statement devoted to Barth’s release.
“We appreciate everything Connor has done for the Buccaneers on and off the field over these past five years, but this decision was based on the best interests of our team moving forward.”
Moving forward, the Bucs will lay the kicking duties at the feet of rookie Patrick Murray, an undrafted free agent out of Fordham who earned first-team All-America honors as a senior in 2012 by making 25 of 30 field goals.
Even if Murray maintains that rate during his tenure with the Bucs, he won’t match Barth, who connected on 84.3 percent of his field goals during his four full seasons.
Barth also set the Bucs’ single-season accuracy rate (92.9 in 2011) and leaves holding the team record for consecutive field goals (25) and most field goals of 50 yards or more in a season (six in 2012).
“I just want to thank the Bucs and all the fans and my teammates for the best five years of my life,’’ Barth told the Tribune in a text message. “It’s been one hell of a ride.’’
Barth wasn’t the only long-standing Buccaneer to see his ride with the team end Friday. Offensive lineman Jamon Meredith, who started 12 games at right guard in 2012 and eight at left guard last year, also was let go.
So was cornerback Anthony Gaitor, a 2011 seventh-round pick who was waived during the offseason but returned at the start of training camp and was cross-training at safety.
The Bucs also waived defensive backs Marc Anthony, Kip Edwards and Keith Lewis; offensive linemen Edawn Coughman, Andrew Miller and Jeremiah Warren; linebackers Nate Askew and Ka’Lial Glaud; defensive linemen T.J. Fatinikun and Larry English; and fullback Lonnie Pryor.
Those moves left the Bucs with 61 players, which means they have to cut eight more before today’s 4 p.m. deadline for reducing the roster.
“The guys we let go of, they are good football players,’’ Smith said. “There were reasons why we kept them as part of the 75-man roster. But we do have to get down, and there are a lot of moving parts going on through this process.’’
The biggest is the practice squad, which has been increased by two players to 10 this year with the addition of two players who have two accrued seasons of free agency credit.
An accrued season requires a player to have been on full-pay status for more than eight regular-season games on the 53-man roster or on his team’s injured reserve list.
Several of the players released are eligible to return to the practice squad, but Smith said the Bucs will also consider adding players who were let go by other teams.
One reason: Smith wasn’t all that impressed with the level of play he received from the reserves who got the bulk of the playing time during a 24-10 loss to Washington on Thursday night.
“I can’t talk about an awful lot of positive things that really came about,’’ Smith said. “We got a couple takeaways, but there weren’t really a whole lot of highlights.’’
One highlight Smith mentioned was rookie wide receiver Solomon Patton’s 25-yard touchdown reception. It might have been enough to earn Patton a roster spot as a backup pass catcher and return man.
“He’s done some good things,’’ Smith said. “You can say he’s made big strides in our mind. But if you’re trying to ask me if he’s going to be on the team, well, he’s made strides. It could still go either way.’’