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The Bucs made Ali Marpet a wealthy young man. Who’s next?

Bucs tackle Donovan Smith, shown here getting hair colored during the Cut for the Cure to benefit the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation in June, has started all 52 games since coming to Tampa Bay in the 2015 NFL Draft. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published Oct. 13, 2018

TAMPA — Taco Tuesday will never be the same for Bucs guard Ali Marpet, who signed a five-year, $54.125 million extension earlier this week.

He celebrated by having dinner at home with his brother, girlfriend and friends.

"It was phenomenal. My brother killed it," Marpet said. "There's no other way I'd rather celebrate than Taco Tuesday. My brother made it at home, but I'll (pay) him. He made a ceviche, shrimp tacos, steak tacos, chicken tacos."

Perhaps it was fate, but it was Marpet's turn to pay for dinner with the offensive linemen on Thursday when they planned to dine at Eddie V's in Tampa, where the 16-ounce New York Strip goes for $55.

"He says we're going to splurge, but I doubt it. That might be allowing us to get dessert," left tackle Donovan Smith said.

"He's going to be the same guy. That's just Ali. I told him to give me $3,000 of his money so I can take him shopping. Everything else is going to sit in the bank. Nordstrom Rack. I'm not going to take him to Nordstrom, because it's too expensive for him."

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The Bucs are in the process of deciding what other players they can afford to lock up as their young core.

Marpet is the third Bucs player to reach an agreement on an extension in 2018. In March, receiver Mike Evans signed an $82.5-million contract with $55 million guaranteed that made him the NFL's second highest-paid receiver in average salary. Tight end Cameron Brate then agreed to a $40.8-million contract with $18 million guaranteed later in the spring.

The Bucs picked up Jameis Winston's fifth-year option in 2019 for $20.9 million. It is guaranteed only against injury.

But Marpet, a second-round pick from Division III Hobart College, isn't the only player the Bucs would like to lock up. Here's a look at the others:

Donovan Smith:  Part of that 2015 draft under Jason Licht that netted Winston and Marpet, Smith has started all 52 games at left tackle since being selected in the second round out of Penn State.

Though analytic-based websites such as Pro Football Focus routinely grades Smith low, Bucs offensive line coach George Warhop has said he believes he could become one of the top five left tackles in the league. His toughness and durability are not in question. Each week he goes against the best pass rushers, and he overcame a sprained knee two weeks into the preseason in time to preserve his starting streak.

Kwon Alexander: Alexander was a find in the fourth round in the same draft that produced Winston, Smith and Marpet. He has been a starter at linebacker since his rookie season, when he was suspended the final four games for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs. Alexander missed four games due to injury last season but still was named to the Pro Bowl as an alternate and played in the all-star game.

The Bucs are in talks with his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. But it's unclear whether the Bucs want to pay him as a top-flight linebacker, even though his numbers match favorably with some of the NFL's best. Alexander has been inconsistent. He can have 18 tackles at Atlanta and wreck the entire game with an interception and fumble recovery. He's also capable of posting only two tackles in more than 70 snaps against the Bears two weeks ago.

Kendell Beckwith is on the non-football injury list following a broken leg he suffered in a car accident in April. He could begin practice as early as next week. Whenever he returns, he also could play middle linebacker down the road.

Adam Humphries: The former Clemson star has been very productive as a slot receiver and was second on the team in receptions last season. But the emergence of receiver Chris Godwin has made it tough for Humphries to get as many targets. Certainly, the Bucs would like to have him, it may be difficult to make cap room in 2019 for all these deals.

To defer or not to defer

It seems simple enough. The Bucs defense is struggling. The offense is their strength. So if they win the coin toss, they take the football, right? Nope. Since 2008, when the NFL gave teams the ability to defer their choice of kicking or receiving to the second half, most have done just that.

The reason is because the analytics indicate there is a high percentage that the team which defers will steal an extra possession in the first half, then start with the ball in the second half.

"If you believe in analytics, you should defer every time,'' coach Dirk Koetter said, although admitting he has a temptation to receive when winning the toss sometimes.

"I believe more in trying to get the extra possession. If you look at some of the best offensive teams in the league that may or may not be the best defensive teams, they're still deferring most of the time.''

Vea’s powerful start

The Bucs got their first glimpse of DT Vita Vea at Chicago. The first-round pick from Washington missed seven weeks with a calf injury. He looked rusty, but his power was evident.

"He's got unbelievable power. Freakish power. There was a play in the game where I think they ran a screen and to see him run 40 yards downfield," Koetter said. "We all saw what he could do when he played at college. It's going to take a little bit of time but he'll be fine.''

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud

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