TAMPA —The fact that left tackle Donovan Smith has not missed a start in four pro seasons is worth a lot to the Bucs.
The debate will continue about how much continuing that steely streak should cost, but the team plans to use the franchise tag on Smith if an agreement is not struck before Tuesday’s 4 pm. deadline.
The franchise tag would guarantee Smith a one-year, $14.067-million contract for 2019.
However, negotiations on a long-term extension are going well and Bucs are optimistic they could reach a new deal with Smith after the franchise tag is applied. The two sides have until July 15 to agree to a multi-year deal with the tag in place.
Smith would be the most coveted left tackle in the NFL if he made it to free agency unrestricted. Instead, the Bucs all but guarantee his return while working on potentially a more salary cap friendly deal.
A second-round pick from Penn State in 2015, Smith has been an incredibly consistent, if not spectacular left tackle. Not only has he never missed a start, he had to leave only one game in his NFL career due to injury.
The Bucs are anxious to see what improvements Smith may make under the direction of offensive line coach Joe Gilbert and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin.
Smith, 25, will only be the fourth player to have the franchise player tag assigned to him by the Bucs. Tampa Bay used its franchise tag on tackle Paul Gruber the first time it was available in 1993. But in the 26 years since, Tampa Bay has utilized that designation only three other times. In 2012, the Bucs used the franchise tag on kicker Connor Barth.
The franchise tag can be applied to a player about to enter unrestricted free agency.
It guarantees that player a one-year contract at the average salary of the top five players at that position. The transition tag guarantees a one-year deal at the average salary of the top 10 players at that position. However, if 120 percent of a player’s salary from the previous season is higher, he would receive that amount.
The Bucs have an estimated $15.633 million under the salary cap, according to Overthecap.com. But that doesn’t include the increase of the salary cap from $177.2 million to $188.2 million when the new league year begins March 13.
Even so, that doesn’t leave the Bucs much wiggle room in their effort to re-sign linebacker Kwon Alexander and receiver Adam Humphries, who are almost certain to make it to free agency.
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A year ago, Humphries was believed to have been seeking $8 million per year. But that was before he set career marks with 71 receptions and five touchdowns. It will be interesting to see if the Bucs begin releasing players to create more salary cap space.
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @NFLStroud