Last year, Jason Licht made the somewhat controversial decision to re-sign Bucs starting left tackle Donovan Smith to a three year/$41.25 million contract with $27 million fully guaranteed. New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan celebrated by tweeting out, “Food solidified for 3 more years!“.
What’s that say about that decision?
In case you’re having trouble with the math, that’s $13.75 million per year, which makes him the 9th highest-paid offensive tackle in football. More than the 49ers Trent Williams. More than the Cowboys Tyron Smith. More than the Chiefs Eric Fisher. More than the Packers David Bakhtiari. And more than the Vikings Riley Reiff.
How’s that sit with you, Buc fans?
There wouldn’t be a problem IF he actually played like the 9th best offensive tackle in football. But on Sunday, he gave up two of Tampa Bay’s three sacks, four pressures, a hit, a hurry, had a penalty, AND got beat for two tackles for loss on run plays. PFF had him ranked 41st out of the 64 offensive tackles who started last weekend. He finished the game with a 73.9% pass block win rate, which ranked him 129th among ALL offensive linemen and 54th out of the offensive tackles on Sunday. Head coach Bruce Arians said that it was “one of Smith’s worst games“. He also said that Smith had “the easiest guy to block on the Saints d-line” and that he “did a poor job.“
THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE.
Especially when he’s SUPPOSED TO BE protecting the blindside of a 43-year-old future Hall of Famer like Tom Brady, and especially going into his 6th season. But what can the Bucs do at this point? This year is the last of his guaranteed money, so in a way, this is a contract year for him – even though, he does have another year to go on his three-year contract. The Bucs could give him the boot after this season, and it wouldn’t cost them any more money. Then they could try to grab one of the top tackles in the 2021 NFL Draft, which there are some good ones. That will likely be the option IF he can make it through this season without getting replaced first.
But what are the other alternatives?
Swap him with Wirfs? The rookie played rather well in his debut, giving up just two pressures on 41 dropbacks, mostly against Saints All-Pro Cameron Jordan. He obviously outplayed Smith on the outside on Sunday, but is he ready for the left side? Sure he played a few games over there in college, but this is the NFL, and it’s a totally different animal. It could be a viable option for next season, but I don’t see them making that change now during the season.
Bench Smith altogether? The reserve tackles on the Buccaneers roster right now are Josh Wells and Joe Haeg, and even though both of them are good to have as reserves, they’re NOT really NFL starting left tackle material. Smith may not be the 9th best tackle in the league, but he is a better option than starting either of them. Besides, it wouldn’t make much sense to have Smith standing on the sidelines while making $13.75 million this season.
Sign a free agent tackle? That’s not really an option either. Any free agent worth having has already signed with a team at this point and anyone left out there is probably NOT going to be an upgrade at the position.
Look, Smith isn’t a terrible tackle. If he was, I don’t think that Jason Licht would’ve made such a hefty investment in him, last year. He’s been an ironman missing just one start in 81 career games, but is the potential REALLY there? Bucs’ former offensive line coach George Warhop said that Smith was an “unbelievable talent” and that he could be one of the top three tackles in the league. But is he? Could he be? If so, then why is Bucs’ current offensive line coach Joe Gilbert still talking about the frequency of Smith’s inconsistent play going into his sixth season? “We can say anything we want as coaches, but if the player doesn’t buy into it, then it won’t go anywhere,” said Gilbert. He added, “He realizes that 60 good plays out of 65 isn’t good enough, and that’s what he’s working on now. It’s one thing to have a bad PLAY, but you can’t have a bad DAY”.
And THAT is the big issue with Smith. He has to limit the bad reps. He has to be more consistent, and he has to protect Tom Brady’s blindside better. If he doesn’t start doing THAT, then he might be looking for a new team next season, and the Bucs will be looking for a new left tackle. Bruce Arians said that Smith’s game against the Saints was one of his worst, but he expects him to bounce back this week against the Panthers. Let’s hope he does.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!