The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic related to the Tampa Bay Bucs each week.

This week’s topic: Should the Bucs keep LT Smith or move on?

Scott Reynolds: Give Smith One More Year
The Buccaneers are in a bit of a bind at left tackle where Donovan Smith is scheduled to be a free agent in March, but is coming off a lackluster season in what was a contract year for the team’s second-round pick in 2016. Smith gave up a career-high 6.5 sacks this season and 49 QB pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, and his play did not improve the way the team was hoping it would in his contract year.

Smith’s coaches have repeatedly said that he needed to be more consistent, yet there were still mental lapses and some laziness that kept him from making progress in that area. A prime example of this was Smith simply wheeling Dallas defensive end Randy Gregory around quarterback Jameis Winston instead of staying on him and mirroring him. Gregory kept pursuing Winston as he rolled to his right, sacked him from behind and forced a fumble that was recovered and returned for a touchdown in a 27-20 loss to the Cowboys.

Bucs center Ryan Jensen, left tackle Donovan Smith and QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs center Ryan Jensen, left tackle Donovan Smith and QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

Smith will turn 26 in June and is just entering the prime of his career. He graded out at 66.4 by PFF, which makes him an above average left tackle on their scale. In free agency, Smith is the headliner at left tackle along with New England’s Trent Brown, who many expect to be retained by the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots either with the franchise tag or with a long-term contract extension. Smith would easily command a contract in excess of $12 million per year in free agency with the thin market for left tackles, coupled with the fact that the 2019 NFL Draft is not rich in quality or quantity at the position, either.

That said, the Bucs should use the franchise tag on Smith to allow new head coach Bruce Arians, and assistant coaches Harold Goodwin and Joe Gilbert to work with him and determine if they can motivate Smith towards becoming a more consistent player and push him to the next level in the 2019 season. I don’t think former offensive line coach George Warhop was effective in developing Smith or many of Tampa Bay’s other young offensive linemen.

The franchise tag would come at a cost of about $14 million per year, but that addition $2 million cost is worth not tying Smith to a long-term deal if his play plateaus or regresses in yet another contract year. Without Smith, who has been a rock at left tackle, starting all 64 games there since entering the league four years ago, the Bucs will have a huge hole at left tackle that they can’t afford – especially in Jameis Winston’s fifth-option contract year.

Mark Cook: Keep Smith – For Now
Have you ever been painting a floor and you are almost done and realize you’re stuck in the corner? The only thing you can do is walk across the wet paint and make a mess or wait it out and let it dry. The Bucs have essentially painted themselves in a corner with left tackle Donovan Smith, who is slated for free agency next month, and they really only have two options. They can make a mess by cutting him and hoping a rookie draft pick can step in during Jameis Winston’s contract year and not get the quarterback killed as he learns trial-by-fire style, or Tampa Bay can let Smith’s paint dry for one more year and offer him the franchise tag at $14 million this year.

Personally, I wouldn’t want my shoes covered in wet paint and would allow Smith a chance to “dry” for one more year, under what we all hope and expect to be better coaching in the offensive line room. We’ve said it, and coaches have said it – the only thing holding Smith back is Smith himself. I believe Bruce Arians is the guy – along with Harold Goodwin and Joe Gilbert – that can help Smith be the player the team hoped he would become when Tampa Bay drafted him in the second round in 2015. Smith might never be at the level of Walter Jones or Joe Thomas, but he can become a better Donovan Smith. The skill set and physical traits are there. Is is just a matter of want-to for Smith.

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

Last season, Smith played through a lot of nagging injuries that weren’t widely reported. He’s managed to do that for 64 straight games since entering the league. That alone would earn him a ton of money in free agency if he hit the open market. Durability and dependability are coveted by every NFL team, especially at the blindside tackle position. Yes, Smith gave up a career-high 6.5 sacks last year, but the Bucs attempted 408 passes in 2018. So in 408 attempts he essentially lost 6.5 times? Most of us would take that success rate in our job all day long. Of course just because he didn’t give up a sack, doesn’t mean Smith won every rep. There were plenty of missed blocks in the run game, along with a ton of QB pressures allowed.

Was it frustrating at times watching Smith have his lapses last season in a contract year? You bet. Just go back and read how many times Smith appeared on PewterReport.com’s Most Disappointing List. Consistency is what most Bucs fans – and coaches – want to see from Smith. I would also throw in seeing a little more sustained nasty out of him. But the bottom line is, the Bucs have painted themselves in a corner – for this year at least as there is no viable option to replace him on the current roster, and free agency is slim pickings outside of New England’s Trent Brown, who is expected to re-sign with the Patriots. Do the Bucs want red and pewter paint all over their shoes or are they willing to let the paint dry?

Trevor Sikkema: Move One
I don’t mind the franchise tag option for Donovan Smith, as it is something that I have been talking about on this here fine website for a while now, but since both Scott Reynolds and Mark Cook argued that point, I would rather say move on than sign Smith to a long-term deal.

Smith has been in the league for four years and though he is about as consistent as they come in terms of availability and playing through nagging injuries, he’s also consistent in the fact that he’s inconsistent on the field. Now, I get it. Offensive linemen generally play more snaps than any other player on the team, and of the 60 or so plays that they run per game, we like to point out the handful that might not have been good when there are plenty more good plays than bad plays.

But I still need there to be less bad plays than the ones Smith has given up over the last two seasons, especially if he wants in excess of $13 million per year, which is the going rate for a starting left tackle in the league with recent contracts.

Alabama LT Jonah Williams
Alabama LT Jonah Williams – Photo by: Getty Images

My main concern with Smith isn’t his talent. It’s the fact that sometimes he looks like he’s fully engaged mentally and other times it just looks like he loses focus or isn’t as on his toes as he should be. Smith has the size and moves well enough to be an above average left tackle in the NFL, but are the Bucs going to pay an above average left tackle Top 3 offensive tackle money? That’s what would scare me.

Plus the thing is that in this current NFL draft class they are going to be able to find a tackle to replace Smith. Alabama’s Jonah Williams, Florida’s Jawaan Taylor, West Virginia’s Yodny Cajuste and Oklahoma’s Cody Ford are all potential left tackle fixes. Each of those players can be had anywhere from the top of the first round to the top of the second round.

It’s shaping up to be a rich offensive tackle class, and if they want to move on from Smith, they have the draft capital to do that. And speaking of draft capital, letting Smith walk in free agency would net Tampa Bay a third-round compensatory draft pick next year. Paying Smith long-term seems like more of a risk at this point than drafting one of those top tackles and rolling the dice on some new blood at left tackle.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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: [email protected]

29 COMMENTS

  1. We need another Paul Gruber there. He’s not that and probably wont ever be. Move him to the right side or move him to Guard. If he wont do that for the money those positions pay then let him go.

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  2. Man, I’m torn, there are not a lot of left tackles out there. I personally think he would be a pretty good guard because is just not athletic enough to be a LT. As a guard, he would be good because the space to “guard” is a lot less than a tackle. That being said, I don’t think there is anything better in the draft either and we need help in other areas as well. It’s the same thing with Benenoch, we keep putting him as a guard, but he’s not a guard, he’s a tackle. Those are my two cents, I’m not the one making these decisions, but man, if I can see it, I know other people can.

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  3. I’m with Trevor. Time to move on. Smith hasn’t progressed at all in his four years in the NFL, he’s not going to suddenly get it in year five. Bucs have the fifth overall pick. Find a guy who can be a starter and pay him 1/5th of what Donovan would make. It would be hard for him to be worse.

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  4. They have no choice they have to keep Smith. They cannot degrade this line anymore. But again there’s that cap space issue they’re going to find themselves in a bottleneck towards the end of the cap. The Buccaneers have the absolute opposite problem is the Patriots players will go to the Patriots for less money to win a championship players coming to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers demand more money to sit at the bottom of the league.

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  5. He was graded as a solid RT in the draft process. The Bucs’ said, “we can move him to LT.” They play players out of position a lot. (Hargreaves is a slot, & not a great one) As a fan who hasn’t had a lot to cheer for since 2001 (& the beginning of 2002) I’m done with “potential.” Until I see a coaching staff that can develop players, I’m done with “potential.” A player is what their tape says they are. History says a top 5 pick is a QB, a LT, or a DE. AL produces plug & play players. FL, eh, sometimes. Watch that Chicago game & then talk to me about OL. (Somebody posted they would puke if we drafted a CB @ 1. Julio Jones makes me puke. Like I was Brady’s wife. Drops 200 on us. Last play of 2018, puts them in FG range.) That was off topic. My point is GMC, Smith, Humphries. It’s not this easy, but if it were, who would you pick to go? How would you protect the cap? A LT on a rookie salary for 5 years. That doesn’t sound good to you?

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  6. Salary cap says it all. Maybe one more year if he was under contract still on rookie deal. Adios!! Play doesnt equal pay.

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  7. Franchise him for a year, move him to Guard or RT, and see how he does. Draft a LT and hope it works out….Or, move Ali to LT, he’s played everywhere else, why not stunt his growth more and try that. Bottom line is, if we move on, are we better or worse?

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  8. I too think the Bucs will tag Donovan Smith but not with the franchise tag. I think they will use the transition tag instead where they will have the right to match any offer made by another team. There is some risk, but is mitigated. 31 other teams have seen the same tape we have. The projected transition tag for O-Linemen in 2019 is 13.7mil. The projected franchise tag is 15.2mil.

    I have already completed my V3 mock waiting for PR to post their next 6 round mock draft. lol.To tag Smith is a short-term move that one way or another must be dealt with next year. Pretty sure BA plans to stay longer than 1 year. I think the safe thing to do is draft his replacement now. If he pans out and is signed to a long-term deal, RT Demar Dotson is on his last legs and will need to be replaced.

    I traded down in the 1st round and drafted OT Jawaan Taylor as a RT and primary replacement for RT Demar Dotson. Taylor has the skills to play LT and will be developed to succeed Donovan Smith if they choose not to re-sign him in 2020. The consensus pick is OT Jonah Williams, but many say he has short arms and only weighs 301lbs. They think he will move to the inside in the NFL.

    WalterFootball thinks OT Jawaan Taylor is the best OT in the draft. My choice may change as we still have the combine, pro days, and team visits to help decide who that pick should be. At any rate, I’m drafting a LT in waiting. Go Bucs!

    https://overthecap.com/franchise-transition-and-rfa-tenders/

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  9. My daughter went to Penn St, I have been out there watching him play for longer than most Buc fans. I remember a game against Trevor Simeon and Northwestern that Penn St lost and Smith didn’t exactly light the world on fire. Hackenburg got sacked a few times and the team had like 50 yards on the ground. Guy has talent for sure, but even back then I felt he was more a RT than a LT. He just doesn’t seem to have the footwork, gets off balance and top heavy at times. But by far the biggest issue with him is either laziness or loss of concentration. Giving a huge contract to a guy like that is dangerous. At the time we were moving Dotson to RT so I think we forced the move of Smith to LT. While he has done an OK job I think he would be an outstanding RT. Problem is now he THINKS he is a LT. He wants to get PAID like a LT. Too late to move him, but that would be the best use of his talent IMO. So I agree, give him a one year franchise tag, see whether we can improve him to the point of actually earning that kind of dough, and trade down in round one and pick best defender we can find and pick up another 2.

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  10. He sucks. Move on and draft his replacement. Any rookie will be at least as good as him and possibly 10 times cheaper.

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    • I’ve often said, Donovan Smith might not be Paul Gruber, but he’s no Kenyatta Walker or Charles McRae either. Setting the compensation aside, since the market determines that; allowing him to depart leaves the team with a “now what?” situation. We all know Big Dot is no longer viable at RT and the RG dilemma is a glaring weakness. Do we really want to be conducting a “changing of the guard” and change both tackles?

      Smith is obviously physically capable of playing LT at a reasonably effective level, but I do think RT might be a better spot for him. His problems are that he tends to lose focus on occasion. A two out of sixty flub-ups a game may be more than we’d like, but that’s not the “turnstile” some reference.

      I think the coaching, a bit of immaturity and other game plan related factors have contributed to Donovan Smith not yet becoming a top tier tackle. Instead of being in a precarious position of needing to revamp the O-line for the umpteenth time, at least for the immediate future, I want to take a “hope for the best and plan for the worst” approach by the scouting staff really focusing on the O-line candidates throughout the Draft. Find one or two or three of those guys who seem to come out of nowhere and have better careers than their high Draft pick brethren. But until we find that guy, we better not dig ourselves a deeper hole.

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      • Totally agree Scubog. It’s such a binary world we live in. “He’s the best! Pay him!” or “He’s the worst! Cut him!” seem like the only two choices these days.

        Some positives I see: He’s young, he’s still learning, he’s got different(and better?) coaches coming, he’s tough and dependable, he’s got 64 games of experience against top NFL talent, he’s respected in the locker room, and he’s an asset to the community.

        If the Bucs let him walk, it creates priority number 1.

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  11. Ideally, I’d like to see him just get tagged instead of signing a long term contract…then we can draft another OT to compete against him for the LT position…this way, we would be better off next year when it is Smith’s time to go and we would already have a possible replacement on the team.

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  12. Sorry to say… LT Smith isn’t going anywhere… at least this year. I’d draft a beast of LT at number 5 and may the best man win the LT spot. Loser moves to right side. Have to improve the O-Line. The most affordable way of doing so is through the draft! I’m just saying…

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  13. I’m with Trevor, time to move on. D. Smith is who he is. More money isn’t going to make him better. And it would be a waste of time to develop then next LT and just throwing money away.

    We need guys that have a Conrad Dobler mentality. Smith doesn’t fit that bill.

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  14. First off fans have to get this notion out of their heads that the Bucs should move Smith to right tackle, or guard. Smith is a FA, and left tackles get paid more then any other O line position, so he ain’t moving over for the Bucs. I also have to disagree with PR that Trent Brown can’t be had in FA. When have the Pats paid anyone other then Brady top dollar? So if we’re going to over pay for a FA, let’s at least take a shot at Brown. If he can’t be had, use the 5th pick on Taylor, or Williams. It would be about time the Bucs used a premium pick on the O line. Paying average players top dollar, and not drafting well has made the Bucs what they are 5-11, time to break the cycle. Franchise Smith, we’ll be using 34 million of cap on the same left side that under preformed last year for 10 million less, how does that make sense? Let’s not forget, if Cappa is a bust, we still need a RG, and RT. I say RT because Dotson’s play is no longer good enough either.

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    • I agree that D.Smith is staying at LT. Some Bucs fans may see Smith as a disaster, but 31 other teams may say Warhop and Koetter were the issue and this young guy is an upgrade at LT in their system. Atlanta and San Fran are two teams definitely interested in him and there may be more.

      I have an idea you might like Surferdudes…

      Move Marpet back to RG where he was awesome. Draft a rookie to be LG. Tag Smith. That way they aren’t spending 34 million on one side of the line! See? That was easy!

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  15. I’m open to keeping him, but only at G, RT money. And moving him to one of those.

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    • Maybe the Bucs could move him to kicker and pay him kicker money? That will be as likely as him becoming a guard.

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  16. Hes a lazy player. Throwing a lot of money at him will only make that worse. Time to move on.

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  17. What are the chances of keeping Donovan Smith, moving him to RT and then drafting a LT? Smith would be an upgrade at RT and could move back to LT in case of injury and would upgrade both positions since Dotson is likely not long for the NFL…

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  18. I would move on. Franchise tag maybe. Long term contract for over 13 million? Hell no. I don’t care what his grade is if you factor in penalties and when the lapses come (worst possible times it seems) he’s below average player wise and above average durability. Paying him top 3 LT money is nuts to me.

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  19. I would move on.

    With that cap space you can fix right guard via free agency and have money left over. Draft a LT replacement AND pick up a 3rd round comp pick next year. Use that 3rd round comp pick to draft a RT to replace Dotson assuming no other Bucs player steps up by then.

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  20. “They made this bed hard, now they have to sleep in it”, as my granddad used to say. Unless Trevor has a LT Tree, then the Bucs need Smith. They are stuck without a replacement for RT and LT, virtually impossible to replace with quality players in one off season. Slap the Franchise tag on D. Smith, which means paying him a little more than he is worth for one season. Sign the best OT in the draft, which should be easy to do at #5. Play the best of the two player at LT; earn it through open competition. If Smith pulls his head out, sign him to a team friendly contract. If he continues to be inconsistent, pull the ejection seat next spring, and go back to the draft well for a RT next year. Don’t punish Winston and the offense for silly pride by refusing to overpay Smith by 2 or 3 Mil for one year. The Franchise Tag will force Smith to play well next season for a long term contract in 2020. Who knows, maybe the new staff can build the right fire under him.

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  21. The opportunity cost of paying Smith that money is huge is not only it takes up cap space but robs the Bucs ability to upgrade 2-3 other positions on this team. You can nab an average NFL CB, RG, and backupswing OL for the money that D. Smith will receive with the franchise tag alone.

    It may tie the Bucs hands somewhat on draft day but you are better off rolling the dice with a 1st or 2nd round LT that has feet to play the position.

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  22. Tag-and-trade. If a team out there would be willing to overpay for Smith’s services, let them do it through draft compensation. That way at least we have some say in where he plays. Also, if we can’t find a trade partner offering more than a 3rd, we still have Smith on that one year deal. Makes sense to me

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  23. I am glad Walter Football thinks Jawan Taylor from FL can play LT. He was only a RT for the Gators and didn’t have the competition their LT did. He did fine at RT and is a big player but I would not take him to play LT in the Pros. RT yes only. D. Smith regressed in his contract year and you don’t pay a lazy player who after we throw many millions at is likely to think he has it made and will be even lazier. You are overpaying mediocrity. NO WAY. I don’t care if Bama’s LT is only 305 lbs he played top SEC Teams and I didn’t see any speed rushers running around him or he getting bull rushed. Trade down and get him or Mississippi’s LT in the First Round. You have Liedtke to play LT if he isn’t developed for the first NFL game. We need cap space to keep some of our best players. Don’t squander it on D. Smith!

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  24. Typical over reaction Tampa where we ship our solid young players to feed other teams. Smith is not bad, he is solid. Yes, he plays and expensive position. But with out him we are very very weak. No rookie is going to play as well in this draft.
    Pay him. First year guaranteed.

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  25. This the one place where I would use the franchise tag. If not cut him. But he is not deserving of a contract or extension. But he can be something for one more year verses trying to fill too many holes. I would franchise him and I would sign a LT in the first round. He can learn the RG position. He is definitely better than Benenoch who was a non-stop revolving door at RG all last year. Hell it might be wise to sign a OG or RT prospect in the second round. For Dotson is on his last leg. I would sign Dotson for one more year. It’s called desperation. Dotson can be the RT (if his knees hold up) for one more year or he could be the backup swing tackle for either the LT or RT position. Really we have a dramatically over paid center, Jensen. There is only one good OL line man, OG Marpet. You will not run the ball with this line. Opposing teams know this about Tampa. It falls in the QB to throw about 70 percent of the time be it Winston or “old man river” Fitz. Neither is a Drew Brees or Tom Brady. It is asking to much. Further, I would keep Gerald McCoy for one more year. You can not create to many new holes as you are addressing other areas. Like the entire Defensive Back Field. Cut WR Jackson (save 10 million). Cut “useless” DE Vinny Curry (save 8 million). Total savings 18 million plus current cap space of 15 million; total cap space now 33 million. Jackson wants to be gone and Curry was not even physically available for most of the games last season. Curry and Grimes made off with 18 million last year for being absolutely horrible. There are very bad players that can be cut and you will add a quick extra 20 million in cap space, while still eating McCoy and the “lead footed” LT Smith.

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