FAB 2. Will The Bucs Use The Franchise Tag On Smith?

If Tampa Bay can’t get contract extensions done for all three of its big soon-to-be free agents – middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, left guard Ali Marpet and left tackle Donovan Smith – the Bucs may have to resort to using the franchise tag for the first time since the team placed it on wide receiver Antonio Bryant in 2009.

Bucs GM Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs GM Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

With Tampa Bay only having about $10 million worth of salary cap room available – keeping approximately $4 million free for in-season signings due to injury – the Bucs may only have room to extend Alexander and Marpet before they hit free agency in 2019. Tampa Bay remains on Smith, who was drafted in the second round in 2015 along with Marpet, but may elect to use the franchise tag on him if general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg can’t get all three signed to extensions during the summer.

The franchise has only used the franchise tag three times since first placing it on left tackle Paul Gruber in 1993. Defensive end Chidi Ahanotu received it in 1999 followed by Bryant in 2009 and kicker Connor Barth in 2012. Smith might be the next.

Before I discuss why Tampa Bay might use the franchise tag on Smith, let’s discuss exactly what the franchise player designation is and what it means from a salary cap perspective.

An “exclusive” franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams. The player’s team has all the negotiating rights to the exclusive player.

A “non-exclusive” franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five cap hits at the player’s position for the previous five years applied to the current salary cap, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. A non-exclusive franchise player may negotiate with other NFL teams, but if the player signs an offer sheet from another team, the original team has a right to match the terms of that offer, or if it does not match the offer and thus loses the player, is entitled to receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.

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

So why would the Bucs consider using the franchise tag on Smith rather than Marpet or Alexander? The franchise tag is not position-specific in that it separates tackles, which typically make more money than guards, from interior linemen. The average of the top 10 offensive linemen make up the franchise number, which was $14.961 million for O-linemen in 2018.

The same applies at linebacker where all linebacker money – from 4-3 middle linebackers to 3-4 pass-rushing outside linebackers – is used to formulate the franchise tag number for the linebacker position, which was $14.975 million in 2018. There is no way the Bucs could franchise Alexander because the sky-high contracts of 3-4 outside linebackers like Von Miller, who averages over $19 million per year, as well as Kansas City’s Justin Houston and Arizona’s Chandler Jones, who are both over $16 million per year on average. The Bucs would love to keep Alexander in the fold for $10 million or so per year.

Since left tackles are typically the positions that drive the franchise tag number, it makes sense to use the franchise tag on Smith since he plays that spot. Some Bucs fans might feel nauseous over that notion, thinking that Smith hasn’t arrived yet as a top 10 left tackle because he still has the occasional lazy play in which he gives up a needless sack.

Yet making Smith play out his contract year and with an eye towards free agency or the franchise tag in 2019 could force him to focus on raising his play this season, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Placing the franchise tag on Smith and forcing him into another “contract year” next season could be a really good thing as it forces him to mature and continue to step up his game before getting a lucrative long-term extension.

And if Smith falters this season or in 2019 if the franchise tag is placed on him, the Bucs are tied to him long term if his development stalls or he regresses.

So what would a long-term contract extension for Smith, a player who has never made the Pro Bowl or gotten much consideration, look like?

TOP LEFT TACKLE CONTRACTS PER OVERTHECAP.COM

Nate Solder Giants $62,000,000 $15,500,000 $34,800,000 $8,700,000 56.1% 2022 UFA
Russell Okung Chargers $53,000,000 $13,250,000 $25,000,000 $6,250,000 47.2% 2021 UFA
Trent Williams Redskins $66,000,000 $13,200,000 $30,000,000 $6,000,000 45.5% 2021 UFA
Terron Armstead Saints $65,000,000 $13,000,000 $20,880,000 $4,176,000 32.1% 2022 UFA
Tyron Smith Cowboys $97,600,000 $12,200,000 $22,118,013 $2,764,752 22.7% 2024 UFA
David Bakhtiari Packers $48,000,000 $12,000,000 $16,000,000 $4,000,000 33.3% 2021 UFA
Eric Fisher Chiefs $48,000,000 $12,000,000 $22,000,000 $5,500,000 45.8% 2022 UFA
Cordy Glenn Bengals $60,000,000 $12,000,000 $26,500,000 $5,300,000 44.2% 2021 UFA
Riley Reiff Vikings $58,750,000 $11,750,000 $26,300,000 $5,260,000 44.8% 2022 UFA
Duane Brown Seahawks $34,500,000 $11,500,000 $14,250,000 $4,750,000 41.3% 2022 UFA

The highest paid left tackle in the NFL was former New England Patriot Nate Solder, who signed a four-year, $62 million deal with the New York Giants this year at age 30. The deal included $34.8 million in guaranteed money, including a $16 million signing bonus and guaranteed base salaries in 2018 and ’19. Solder, a former first-round pick, has also never been to a Pro Bowl.

Tennessee’s Taylor Lewan, a two-time Pro Bowler, surpassed Solder’s deal when he signed an extension worth $80 million over five years, an average of $16 million, which makes him the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. Lewan will have a cap hit of $9.341 million in 2018, but that contract hasn’t been reflected in OverTheCap.com’s table above.

Solder’s $15.5 million per year average is now the second-highest in the league, followed by Atlanta’s Jake Matthews, who just signed a five-year, $75 million extension that will pay him $15 million per year. Matthews has never been to a Pro Bowl, and his new contract is also not reflected in the OverTheCap.com table above.

The next closest is San Diego’s Russell Okung, who averages $13.25 million per year. Okung, a former top 10 pick, has never made the Pro Bowl.

There are currently 14 left tackles earning at least $10 million per year with most of them never making the Pro Bowl. That’s not including some of the league’s better left tackles in San Francisco’s Joe Staley ($8.75 million) and Baltimore’s Ronnie Stanley ($5.12 million). That just shows that the going rate for a starting caliber left tackle is north of $10 million regardless of whether they are a Pro Bowler or not.

New Orleans’ Terron Armstead averages $13 million per year, while Carolina’s Matt Kalil averages $11 million per year. Armstead has never made a Pro Bowl, while Kalil made the Pro Bowl during his rookie season in Minnesota in 2012, but has not returned to that level in five years.

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

If the Bucs are looking for a comparison it may be Armstead’s $13 million per year, or Cincinnati’s Cordy Glenn, who was a second-round pick in Buffalo before signing with the Bengals this offseason. Glenn, who also has never been to a Pro Bowl, is averaging $12 million per year. But without enough salary cap space to sufficiently increase the salaries of Alexander, Marpet and Smith before the start of the 2018 regular season, the Bucs may have to overpay a bit by placing the franchise tag on Smith.

The offensive lineman franchise tag amount could be around $15 million per year in 2019, which might seem rich, but using the tag might be necessary to keep Smith until a long-term contract extension could be worked out. Using the franchise tag on Smith would make him the third- or fourth-highest left tackle in the league either ahead of Matthews or tied with him, depending on what the actual franchise tag salary for offensive tackles comes in at in 2019. And keep in mind that Seattle’s four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown could come in around Lewan’s $16 million per season average when he gets a new contract before hitting free agency in 2019.

Using the franchise tag on Smith might cost the Bucs a few million dollars more next year and make some Bucs fans cringe in the meantime, but it could also buy the team time to see how the 25-year old develops over the next two seasons while assessing his true value before locking him up with a lucrative long-term deal.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

18 COMMENTS

  1. Lets not forget that Gholston, Grimes, and Jackson will all more than likely be gone after this season. So that will free up $25.5 million in cap space

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    • +1
      We’ll still have cap to work with at least until Jameis gets his extension. Greenberg will work his magic with the numbers as he has so far and keep us out of trouble.

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  2. You state that we have a playoff ready roster this year, yet I’m seeing predictions like 1-15 and 2-13-1. Are these writers/prognosticators that out of touch? We will be better than last year and I think we could surprise people. 10-6.

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    • If we get through our first 3 games at 1-2 I believe we can go to the playoffs with this team, most likely wildcard cause our division is brutal. But still playoffs

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    • We definitely have a playoff ready ROSTER, it’s a matter of “I’ll believe it when I see it” when it comes to the coaching staff putting the pieces together though. I think we’re looking at easily a 9+ win season this year

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  3. So let me get this straight, out CB’s who excelled in their previous colleges at press coverage are doing a great job covering in…. press coverage??!! If I see mike smith play these guys 10 yards off again this year he should be fired after game one.

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    • +1

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    • +3

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    • +500

      Dude it’s so frustrating to see such an obvious flaw, and a professional coach not fix it.
      I don’t care about all this nonsense coaching jargon being said. if your players excel in that role, DO IT. that simple

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    • +1 and +1 more for the sarcasm lol

      I’m hoping the off coverage last year was based on the lack of Dline pressure. That problem should be alleviated this year so Smitty has no reason for running that kind of coverage this year.

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  4. All these scenarios for how we pay Donovan and I’m just sitting here like, what if we don’t bring him back? How much would it cost to cut ties with this fool? If he really is a top 15 tackle in the league like Scott so desperately needs to keep reminding us, he should be good trade bait for a needy team. He’s simply not worth being paid like a top 5 lineman which is basically guaranteed to happen if we keep him. Thinking about the other players we might have to lose because wed be paying Donovan so much makes me sick, and it would be the most Bucs thing ever, of course.

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    • +1

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    • I agree 100% Smith is trash.

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  5. Donovan Smith is not a top-15 left tackle by any measure. That’s just crazy. He allowed more than 50 pressures last year and was dreadful in the running game. Extending or tagging him would be asinine.

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  6. let’s see what he does this year first.

    Go Bucs !!

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  7. MIke Smith… Please use press coverage more. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Just let your players do what they do best.

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  8. MIke Smith… Don’t reinvent the wheel. Just let your players do what they do best.

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  9. I agree we should lock up Kwon and Ali, the jury’s still out on D Smith though. I say we let him prove it this year and if he does, tag him for another “prove it” year before extending him. If he doesn’t vastly improve this year, cut ties and draft another LT

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