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The Buccaneers made left tackle Donovan Smith a multi-millionaire on Tuesday.

But a good deal of Tampa Bay fans are less than thrilled with the fact that Smith will end up making an average of $13.6 million per season to remain in red and pewter, and some Bucs fans are actually incensed at the thought of Smith getting that much money coming on the heels of him giving up a career-high 5.5 sacks last season in a contract year.

In effort to explain the team’s rationale – not necessarily justify it – to Bucs fans, there are some facts that must be considered. To understand where Tampa Bay is in all of this with Smith, it’s important to go back to the beginning.

Former Bucs LT Anthony Collins

Former Bucs LT Anthony Collins – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht and former head coach Lovie Smith made a mistake in signing former Bengals left tackle Anthony Collins, who was one of the more sought after free agents, in 2014. Collins was a bust who took the money from his big payday and ran. That’s the perils of free agency, and the Bucs have been victim to it plenty of times with the likes of wide receiver Alvin Harper, running back Derrick Ward, cornerback Eric Wright and defensive tackle Chris Baker throughout the years.

Thankfully, the Bucs didn’t compound their mistake by hanging on to Collins, and they cut him after one disastrous year. Licht had spent a fifth-round draft pick in 2014 on Purdue left tackle Kevin Pamphile, but he was better suited inside, so he wasn’t an ideal long-term candidate to protect a quarterback’s blindside.

After spending the No. 1 overall draft pick on quarterback Jameis Winston in 2015, Licht came back near the top of the second round and drafted Penn State junior left tackle Donovan Smith to serve as Winston’s pass protector. To this day, Smith remains the best left tackle from the 2015 draft class.

Because he started all 16 games as a rookie and showed promise, the Bucs ruled out drafting another left tackle over the last three years as the team had other more pressing needs, such as the secondary and defensive line.

In hindsight, it would have been advantageous to draft another player capable of competing with Smith and starting at left tackle, but it is so difficult to find starting-caliber blindside pass protectors. They don’t grow on trees.

It’s a position that teams historically have to draft as the good ones rarely hit free agency.

Smith isn’t a Top 5 left tackle, but he is a Top 15 left tackle at age 25. Led by Tennessee’s Taylor Lewan’s $16 million per year average, there are 11 left tackles that currently make $11 million or more per year. New deals for left tackles this year will start at $12 million per year. That’s the cost of doing business in the NFL right now.

Bucs LT Donovan Smith

Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Smith, who has started all 64 games he’s played in over four years in Tampa Bay, would fetch that much in free agency from another team as he would be the top left tackle on the market.

Tampa Bay had one of three options: re-sign Smith to an extension with two years worth of guaranteed money, use the franchise tag on him or let him go in free agency.

Let’s examine all three scenarios and what that would mean to the Bucs in 2019 and beyond.

Signing Smith To A Long-Term Extension

The Bucs wwere hopeful to get Smith to sign a long-term extension with a manageable $11 million – $13 million average per year salary. This wil help the team’s salary cap for the long term, and Licht and new head coach Bruce Arians are hopeful that more accountability and better coaching from run game coordinator Harold Goodwin and offensive line coach Joe Gilbert will take Smith’s game to the next level where he can eventually become a Top 5-10 left tackle in the league with proper development and more maturity.

Smith has great athletic ability, strength and size at 6-foot-5, 338 pounds. Where he needs to improve is sustained focus and effort, and having a new voice in the offensive line room should help Smith – and the Bucs – for the long-term.

Using The Franchise Tag On Smith

Tampa Bay had planned to use the franchise tag on Smith if negotiations on a long-term deal didn’t produce an agreement by 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5. The franchise tag amount is $14.067 million, and the problem for Tampa Bay long-term is that if Smith played well in 2019 and was deemed worthy of re-signing to a long-term extension, negotiations in 2020 would have started at $14 million per year because that is what he is deemed worthy of if the Bucs had used the franchise tag on him this year.

Tampa Bay would have missed an opportunity to get Smith about $2 million cheaper per year, and if the Bucs plan on franchising Smith again in 2020 his payday skyrockets from $14 million to $17 million per league rules, which would not be advantageous for the team.

Not Re-Signing Smith

The Bucs could ave let Smith walk in free agency, but did not pursue that course of action. At the very most, Tampa Bay would have gotten a compensatory pick at the end of the third round for losing Smith, but would of had to spend a 2019 draft pick on a left tackle to replace him.

The Bucs do not view Alabama’s Jonah Williams as a left tackle prospect and the 2019 draft class is thin at quality left tackles. There is no guarantee that the Bucs would be to secure one of the better left tackles in the draft with other teams needing help at that position, nor is there a guarantee that the player that Tampa Bay drafts this year would be as good as or better as Smith, a four-year starter, would be.

Bucs LT Donovan Smith and QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs LT Donovan Smith and QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Keep in mind that the real pressing issue in Tampa Bay this year is evaluating the play of Winston, who is in his fifth-year option, and deciding whether he is worth paying in excess of $20 million per year long term. In order to create the best possible conditions for a fair evaluation of Winston, having competent left tackle play is critical this year. Putting a rookie at left tackle this season would likely hinder that objective.

In the end, the Bucs didn’t have much of a choice other than to re-sign Smith or use the franchise tag on him. Some might suggest that in hindsight the team should have used a draft pick on a left tackle candidate, but hindsight is always 20-20.

Keeping Smith may not have been the best option unless his play improves, but for right now, it’s the only option Tampa Bay had to pursue given what’s not available in free agency or this year’s draft class, and the considerations regarding protecting Winston in a critical year for the long-term course of the franchise.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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Alldaway 2.0
2 years ago

Smith is good value for a franchise tag and try out for one more year. But an extension? I can’t support an extension for Smith until I see Smith show more with Arians on board now to hold him accountable.

Jolly Bucs Fan
Reply to  Alldaway 2.0
2 years ago

Except an extension with only 2 years guaranteed is essentially only a 2 year try out and would come cheaper

FLBoy84
Reply to  Jonathan Goodfellow
2 years ago

Exactly, simply gives them more time to address the position and groom a replacement. And saves them $1.5M against the tag (or $2.7M based on the Sporting News, who has the 2019 OL tag at $15.283M, which seems right since it was #14.07M in 2018).

Ken Grant
2 years ago

Graded as the 25th best LT on PFF this year and it was his highest graded season. The eye test certainly matches that narrative. Never, at any time during his career, has he been a top-15 LT.

EricNV
Reply to  Ken Grant
2 years ago

PFF is not the end-all-be-all of sources.

EastEndBoy
Reply to  Ken Grant
2 years ago

I completely agree – and while certainly some will say “PFF is terrible”, I leave you with these two tidbits to ponder: 1) PFF is by far the most advanced and unbiased system available for grading players on an individual basis. It still requires judgement (which will sometimes be wrong), and some have an issue with that, but the judgment is made consistently and over hundreds of individual evaluation measures….and since PFF is a relative-valuation system (i.e., each Tackle is viewed relative to the other Tackles – so what’s “great” is really a measure of what the best Tackles can… Read more »

BigSombrero
2 years ago

Thank you SR.

Great job explaining the Bucs rationale. I wholeheartedly agree with you that Smith is the best tackle from his draft class, a top 15 tackle in the NFL at age 25, and a dependable iron man the Bucs can count on every week.

Keeping him on a long term deal at $12m/year x 4 or 5 years is better than paying him north of $14m/year next year.

BigSombrero
Reply to  BigSombrero
2 years ago

Bucs just signed him. 3 years 41.5 million. 27 million guaranteed

BigSombrero
Reply to  BigSombrero
2 years ago

For those keeping track at home, that’s 13.5 million per year

BigSombrero
Reply to  BigSombrero
2 years ago

http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000001021154/article/bucs-donovan-smith-agree-to-threeyear-415m-deal

“A big reason why the offense has been successful”

Done! Now go get Kwon!

fredster
2 years ago

The Bucs should have not only drafted a left tackle while back, but should have been using picks more wisely with O line overall. Cappa not looking like great pick. They did it ass backwards getting QB and weapons and now trying to get a decent O line. It’s a head scratcher. Starts up front always has always will.

FLBoy84
Reply to  fredster
2 years ago

To be fair, starts up front on both sides of the ball….

Brandonges
2 years ago

Thanks for the article, Scott

bucballer
2 years ago

Build inside out… always been the template for championship teams and perennial playoff teams! I just question rewarding mediocrity! Not just LT Smith but others as well! Should have had an alternative in place two years ago… just in case! I saw it… u saw it… but GM didn’t? Wtf

EricNV
Reply to  bucballer
2 years ago

Not trying to defend Smith’s lackluster efforts at times during any game, but when judging the entire OL, the length of time that Winston and Fitzgerald had to hold on to the ball before releasing needs to be factored in. I’m sure Licht is evaluating that with Arian’s assistance and factoring it into their negotiations. If Smith is being forced to keep blocking an additional couple of seconds because Jameis is holding on to the ball too long, and we know he does that, that’s an important point which I’m sure Smith and his agent are making during these negotiations.… Read more »

tnew
2 years ago

This season will tell a lot about many players. The O-line evaluations have been really off. Pamphille, “more suited as an inside”, as evaluated by the Bucs, was evaluated as a right tackle by the Titans prior to his injury. To me he would be a good FA pickup if possible. Should be able to pick him up for a $2mil/1 year deal, he has some chemistry with most of the lineman and wouldn’t have to endure a bizarre rotating lineman scheme that Koetter seemed to like. As far as Smith goes, one of the biggest issues I think was… Read more »

Pete Wood
2 years ago

I like Smith. I’m glad we used the franchise tag and I hope we sign him for a few more years.
I don’t get all the hate from Bucs fans. Whenever I post something positive about the guy, I am deluged with thumbs down.

Ivan2727
2 years ago

We blew it, all our cap gone over a mediocre LT. Be prepared for another 5-11 year with no free agency moves to be made.

macabee
2 years ago

I have every reason to believe the Bucs will get both the Smith and Alexander contracts done. The Bucs aren’t known for low-balling players or taking advantage of an injured player or whatever. If anything, they are known to over pay. Donovan Smith is going to be back regardless! Ian Rapoport said the Bucs made Alexander a long-term offer. I don’t hold it against a player if he wants to see what the market will bear. I don’t doubt that Kwon will find a 1 year prove it deal that will pay more than the Bucs offered. I don’t think… Read more »

Captain Sly
2 years ago

Great write up Scott. “Coulda shoulda would of” its easy to look back and say what we should have done. The truth is Smith is a capable starter and deserves starter money. Some people want just a 1yr prove it deal but “what if” he thrives in BA system along with Winston? Then that means next off season will be even worse because now you have sign two players. I say get a deal done and let’s move on. Smith is not the best but he’s serviceable. Go Bucs!

e
e
2 years ago

A majority of scouts see Jonah as a potential LT. If he doesn’t cut the mustard, he is a considered a lock as a Pro Bowl guard. He’s not the biggest or fastest, but anchored Alabama’s line on the right for one year and left for two years, giving up only one sack as a LT. The guy is a film rat and loves football and is the most technically sound of all of the potential tackles out there. I think he would be our LT of the future, but if he’s not, then he and Marpet would anchor the… Read more »

Bucsfan1983
2 years ago

Schfeter saying Bucs give Smith a 3 yr/$41.25 deal.

This is not good.

Bucsfan1983
Reply to  Bucsfan1983
2 years ago

*Schefter

chefboho
Reply to  Bucsfan1983
2 years ago

Well that almost certainly means they will be trimming the fat sooner than later. I just don’t see how was can offer Kwon a contract and keep McCoy, hump and mesean. I see all three getting cut at this point. This dude better get his shot together now that he’s paid

drdneast
2 years ago

tnew, if the Titans evaluated Pamphile as a tackle, why was he playing guard for them. Most franchise RT’s are drafted in the first round, not in the second or later rounds. A lot of people were on Smith’s back from season one because they were to stupid to realize that simple fact. The Bucs got extremely lucky with their previous LT who was let go by the moron Lovie Smith when he blew up the entire offensive line when he got here. Even though Smith was drafted in the second round he has had plenty of time to develop… Read more »

BUC-ASS-BOB
2 years ago

How can you make sence of anything Jason Licht does??? When Jason Licht was hired the Bucs were last place today they are still last place not sure why this man still has a job NFL not me rated the top 100 players of 2018 and not one Buc was on list most teams had 3 some 4 players on the list and the BUCS had zero. Smith is not a top 20 tackle and now will get top 5 money the cap is coming like dark shadow over this team and mistakes continue. I have held out hope they… Read more »

Charlie
2 years ago

Smith is absolute loser. The film of the Dallas game tells you everything you need to know about Smith. It’s not lapses in focus or intensity, the dude just doesn’t give a shit. He let’s his QB get assaulted on a weekly basis and still thinks it’s cute to show his face on the team website every week, with a guy who is actually doing his job. He doesn’t have any respect for the game, his teammates, this organization or his reputation. Should cut him, let someone who actually cares have a shot. Cause the argument that we need evaluate… Read more »

Dman
2 years ago

First, evaluate D. Smith not only as a pass protector, but as a run blocker. He’s part of a line that almost got our RB’s killed taking the handoff rather than opening up running lanes. Soaking up cap money on mediocre players rather than guys that produce is what Licht does. And its why we are not winners. Also, Pamphile was a guard, not a tackle. He had the flexibility of moving outside if needed, but is a guard. Why we let him go and played Benenoch is a mystery – Pamphile was easily the better player. Additionally, he played… Read more »

Horse
2 years ago

Good analysis Scott. We really didn’t have a choice here: hopefully he will earn his money. As to linebackers, our biggest loss is Beckwith; that one hurts.

plopes808
2 years ago

I thought we should use the franchise tag on Smith at first, but this option does seem like the safer bet. For one, we get him cheaper. There wasn’t a better option in FA and starting a rookie LT would be a gamble at best. This way, we basically have him on a 2 year tryout and gives us more time to scout other options. The good thing is that Smith’s issue was never his abilities. His problem has always been his focus and effort, or lack thereof. This new coaching staff will definitely be able to address those issues… Read more »

owlykat
2 years ago

If Smith was a “Great Athlete” he would have had the flexibility and quickness to stop speed rushers but he doesn’t and has to hold them after they are passing him. That last year resulted finally in killing important drives that would likely have saved three more games. So it is not just lapses in focus that can be corrected. As far as Jameis holding the ball that was because deep routes were part of Koetter’s Offense and will be BA’s too, so that is no valid excuse. Licht’s story for keeping Smith the last three seasons was that it… Read more »

last fan standing
2 years ago

This was the correct move.
Is he top 5 no but i would say between 10-15. The team has too many holes to fill then to move on from Smith.
The other factor is this team needs to rebuild the right side of the line as Benenock and Dotson need to replaced.

EastEndBoy
2 years ago

It’s fine – because we had no choice really. I personally would have franchised him and drafted his replacement, but if we’re locked in for 2 years instead of 1, so be it. You are 100% correct that Licht dug this hole with his consistently poor draft and FA strategy: we could have had Conklin and Nelson by trading up 1 spot in each of those drafts. Sure, trading up costs, but when Licht uses that “cost” on guys like Aguyao, MJ Stewart, ASJ, D Smith, Cappa, etc….who cares, use it! Let’s hope he doesn’t compound his mistakes yet again… Read more »

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