TAMPA — Lovie Smith wants you to know that the Bucs remain laser-focused on giving this year's team the best chance to win right now. Pay no attention to the eye that keeps gazing toward the future.
Alternating praise of Mark Barron's contributions while lamenting his loss, Smith said Wednesday that the decision to trade the team's starting safety to the Rams was done to make the last-ranked defense better as early as Sunday at Cleveland.
Of course, there is another payoff — receiving the Rams' fourth- and sixth-round picks in the 2015 draft for Barron. The Bucs also dealt linebacker Jonathan Casillas and a sixth-round pick to New England for a fifth-rounder.
"No. There's no truth to it at all," Smith said when asked if the trades meant the Bucs, at 1-6, had already begun to look toward 2015.
"The move we made gave us the best chance to win right now. … Yeah, we picked up draft picks on both of those players — moved up on one and picked up (picks) on the other. But no, it's not about the future. Yeah, it's always about the future, but it's about our current roster. As I said, you don't trade players unless you feel pretty good about the other players you have."
The other players who will fill Barron's cleats have been here all along: safeties Major Wright, who played for Smith in Chicago, Bradley McDougald and Keith Tandy. One of those players — most likely Wright — will team with safety Dashon Goldson against the Browns on Sunday.
"Major Wright has played as well as any of our safeties when he's gotten an opportunity to," Smith said. "And Bradley McDougald has a bright future ahead. That allowed us to make those moves as much as anything."
Barron, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft out of Alabama, was the team's second-leading tackler the past two seasons but has only three interceptions in his career. He had not provided many splash plays this season and has struggled at times in coverage.
Barron said Wednesday after his first practice in St. Louis that he was "shocked" by Tampa Bay's decision to trade him. He said the change in defensive scheme to Smith's Cover 2 concepts was "simpler" but claimed it didn't take advantage of his strengths as a box safety.
"I most definitely wouldn't say it played against my strengths. Did I think that we could have been doing more, using me more? Yeah, I do," Barron said."
He agreed with the notion that the Bucs' defense was more passive in approach: "That's the only thing I didn't like about it. A lot of times I had to sit back, and I couldn't really be as aggressive as I wanted to in that system."
Wright, in his fifth year out of Florida, has played a total of 34 defensive snaps with Goldson this season, recording only one tackle.
"We don't want a one-dimensional player as far as pass or run," Smith said. "We don't want a safety that can only play the middle of the field, run and tackle and do those things. At the same time, we don't want a player that can only play in the box. We want a player that can do both. …
"Again, Mark Barron is a heck of a football player. You have to listen when people contact you, and hopefully this will work out for both of us."
Smith said he also believes Goldson can take a more active role in playing down in the box to root out ball carriers.
Even so, the trade of Barron was met with surprise by his teammates.
"When you're not winning, they have choices to make," tackle Demar Dotson said. "I feel they did what they needed to do."
Linebacker Lavonte David, who also was part of the Bucs' 2012 draft class, said he didn't seen the trade of Barron coming.
"I was surprised, I was real surprised," David said. "That's a guy I came in with, came with, came in as rookies together, developed a friendship over time. That's just the business part of it.
"He may not be a teammate anymore, but we still have that friendship."
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.