The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are spending another post season watching from the couch, so it’s time for what fans are used to being hyped up for. The 2019 Offseason. Over the next month, we will look at who the Bucs free agents are and what to do with them. Let’s kick this series off with a quote from The Clash and ask, “should they stay or should they go?”. Let’s start with Left tackle, Donovan Smith.

Welcome to NFL, Rookie

In 2015 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reluctantly had the honor of kicking off the event with the #1 overall pick. They spent that on the current franchise QB, Jameis Winston. After offering a 5-year, $30 million dollar contract on the colossal bust known as Anthony Collins, General Manager Jason Licht knew he had to do next: Protect the blind side of his new QB. So with the Bucs 2nd round pick, the Bucs put in the card for Penn State offensive tackle, Donovan Smith. Frankly, he wasn’t this Bucs fan’s first choice for the pick, or even the first left tackle. So, with the power of hindsight, let’s take a look at his short career thus far.

Performance Stats

From the moment Donovan Smith was drafted, the Bucs felt they drafted a guy who could not only start day one at Left Tackle, but do it effectively. Needless to say, the rookie played like, well, a rookie. Double digit penalties, as well as handful of sacks allowed, the debut season for Donovan was more or less a work in progress. On the other hand, his career since then was starting to show some promise. Penalties started to grow as his sacks allowed, started to disappear. The weight on the scales of confidence looked more like a swinging pendulum going back and forth between fear and favor. To say nothing of his 64/64 games started though would be unfair to his assessment. Durability in today’s NFL is a positive that is often overlooked for Linemen.

Courtesy of the Washington Post:

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Contract Year

The NFL is still a business and regardless of how much you want your favorite players to stay on the team forever, they realize that their performance, in addition to the market for their position will have an affect on how the team with decide if they have a future with the team. Donovan Smiths rookie contract of 4-years $6M is now over and it’s time to make a decision. The Bucs, for the first time in over a decade, are facing a cap juggling situation. With several free agent contracts to review, they have to do so with the leagues 6th worst cap room with $16 million available. On the other hand they also have the leagues best in dead cap exposure. That being said, left tackles are not cheap. I fully expect his agent to press for $24 million to $40 million over 5-years.

Stay or Go?

Does Donovan Smith qualify for an extension, let alone a contract that puts him in the top 10 earnings? What about moving him to Right Tackle? There were many who thought that that may be his optimal position coming out of college. If that were the case, Tampa would still have a hole at Left Tackle. Lucky for them, they also hold the 5th overall pick in the draft where a guy like Alabama’s Jonah Williams should be available. The only problem there is the requirement to pay a top five pick is going to be in the neighborhood of the what the Bucs would have to allocate for an extension to Donovan Smith anyways. Regardless of whether he is worth the extension or not, the Bucs are going to have to make some cuts in order to sign the handful of free agents looking to get paid this year.

Bottom Line

When it comes down to offensive line value, no other position on the offensive line more important than blind side tackle. The reality of the Left Tackle position is this. Nobody trades (good) Left Tackles. It just doesn’t happen. Furthermore, there are no FA’s who the Bucs could replace Donovan that are subjectively better, let alone more cost efficient. Ultimately, the Bucs have little leverage so they should stick to what works. Extend Smith under front loaded contract, limiting long term exposure which gives the team an out. So again, what say you Bucs fans?

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