FAB 4. Inside Smith’s Contract
The contract numbers for Donovan Smith’s three-year, $41.5 million contract have been revealed, but they don’t tell the whole story. Smith is set to receive $12.5 million this season, followed by $14.5 million next year and $14.25 million in 2021. But there is more to this contract than meets the eye.
The first two years – totaling $27 million – are guaranteed, essentially making this a two-year deal for Smith, as he could be released prior to 2021 without Tampa Bay having any dead salary cap money. The 25-year old Smith agreed to a short-term contract because if he continues to ascend as a player, he’ll be slated for free agency again at age 28, assumedly still in his prime and ready for an even bigger third contract that could carry him into his early 30s. That would be a huge win for Smith – and perhaps Tampa Bay if he develops into a Top 5 offensive tackle that is worth paying top dollar to keep.
But this short-term contract affords the Bucs time to draft and develop a player that could possibly replace Smith – or at least provide some competition that could help push Smith’s game to new heights. Whether it’s this year or next year, look for Tampa Bay to draft an offensive tackle that the team believes could develop into a starting-caliber player on the left side.
The Bucs wanted to avoid using the franchise tag on Smith for several reasons, and really pushed to get Smith locked up with a multi-year deal. The first reason was salary cap flexibility this year.
Had Tampa Bay franchised Smith, his cap value would have been $14.1 million this year. Instead, it’s $12.5 million, which saves the Bucs $1.6 million. To put that number in perspective, Justin Evans, the team’s starting free safety, makes $1.4 million, so that’s a substantial cap savings, especially in a year like 2019 when the Bucs are cap-crunched.
The second reason as it pertains to the salary cap is the deal itself. Because Smith is a good, but not great offensive tackle right now, the team was able to get him for a bargain over the first two years. Atlanta’s left tackle, Bruce Matthews, is two years older than Smith and made his first Pro Bowl last season. The Falcons signed him to a five-year extension worth $14.5 million per year.
Including $13,946,000 in signing bonus money, Matthews received $22.5 million in the first year of his contract extension in 2018. His two-year total is $33 million and Matthews’ three-year total is $46 million.
By comparison, Smith didn’t receive a signing bonus and will receive just $12.5 million this year in the form of a $7 million base salary and a $5.5 million roster bonus, which he received immediately. That’s $10 million less upfront than what Matthews received, and Smith’s two-year total is $27 million, which is $6 million less than what Matthews will receive over the same span. After three years, Matthews is at $46 million whereas Smith is at $41.25 million.
Had Bucs general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg used the franchise tag on Smith this year, Tampa Bay wouldn’t have had the cap relief this year and be faced with the prospect of perhaps having to use it again on Smith if he performed well, but couldn’t come to terms on a new deal. The cost of franchising Smith again in 2020 would be $17 million.
So instead of the possibility to using the tag on Smith twice for a total of $31.1 million, the Bucs re-signed Smith for two years at $27 million – saving $4.1 million over two years as a result, and then getting an extra year on Smith’s contract on top of the deal. Tampa Bay can keep Smith in 2021 or move on from him in two years without any dead cap penalty.
And perhaps more importantly, having the team’s left tackle under contract for next year frees up the franchise tag for 2020 in case the Bucs have to use it on quarterback Jameis Winston.