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.
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.
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.
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.