FAB 3. Don’t Rule Out Smith Due To His Suspension
Bucs cornerback Ryan Smith didn’t help his cause for making the 53-man roster when he was suspended for the first four games of the 2019 season for PED (performance-enhancing drug) use.
But he didn’t necessarily hurt his cause, either.
Don’t count Smith out just yet.
With Bucs general manager Jason Licht spending a pair of draft picks on two new cornerbacks in Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, Smith has an uphill climb to make the roster this summer, in what is his contract year as a fourth-year cornerback. Simple math has Vernon Hargreaves III, Carlton Davis, Murphy-Bunting and Dean as the likely top four cornerbacks on the depth chart.
If Smith makes the team as the fifth cornerback it will be as a reserve on defense, but a star on special teams, which is a role he has had since his rookie season after becoming a Buccaneer as a fourth-round pick in 2016.
The fact that Smith will miss the first four games and count $476,471 less on the team’s salary cap – should he make the team – actually makes him more attractive to the salary cap-strapped Bucs, who have just over $8 million of cap space left and still need to sign first-round pick Devin White. Tampa Bay would rather pay its fifth-string cornerback $1,523,529 instead of the $2 million he was scheduled to make this year due to increased playing time last season.
Smith, who hails from North Carolina Central, was pressed into duty as a starting cornerback in 2017 – his second year in Tampa Bay – due to injury. After taking his lumps during 10 starts that year and recording 61 tackles and five pass breakups, once again injuries forced Smith into a starting role for six games last year where he played better, recording six pass breakups, recovering one fumble and recording his first career interception.
It’s not out of the question to think that Smith, who excels as a gunner downing punts inside the 20-yard line, beats out De’Vante Harris or Jalen Allison, an undrafted free agent from North Dakota State, for the fifth cornerback position despite his four-game suspension.
Smith will have all of training camp and the preseason to continue to learn and play in Todd Bowles’ new defensive scheme before he has to serve his suspension – if he proves his worth and makes the team. His suspension won’t take place until the Monday before the Bucs’ season opener against San Francisco, and he won’t be eligible to return to the AdventHealth Training Center at One Buccaneer Place until the team returns from playing the Rams at Los Angeles after Week 4.
While the NFL just announced Smith’s suspension this week, the Buccaneers have known this was coming for several months. So the fact that they didn’t cut Smith and add another cornerback shows how much they value his special teams prowess and committed they are to letting him compete for a roster spot – albeit for 12 weeks this season rather than 16.