The NFL suspended Buccaneers cornerback Ryan Smith four games without pay for violating the performance-enhancing substances policy, the league announced Wednesday.
The suspension is costly for Smith, a player who lost his starting role a season ago and has been supplanted on the depth chart by incoming rookies. The Bucs took a trio of defensive backs — Sean Bunting, Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards — in the first three rounds of the 2019 draft.
Smith, 25, who will lose a quarter of his $2.025 million salary this season, is slated to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Tampa Bay, however, can release him at any time before the start of this season and not owe him anything. If the Bucs cut Smith, they would be free to spend almost all of the money they had set aside for him. They would incur a charge of only $148,040 against their salary cap, according to Over The Cap.
Smith may remain with the team for offseason and preseason activities through the final preseason game, an Aug. 29 matchup with the Cowboys.
“We are disappointed that Ryan will be unavailable for the first four games of the season,” general manager Jason Licht said in a statement. “We do extensive training and education for our players regarding the league’s policies, but ultimately each individual is responsible for what they put in their bodies.”
The first week of regular-season eligibility for Smith, a product of North Carolina Central, will be Week 5, an NFC South clash with the Saints in New Orleans.
Tampa Bay took Smith in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. In three seasons with the Bucs, Smith has appeared in 45 out of 48 regular-season games, making 16 starts. After a rookie season in which he recorded only one tackle in 14 games, Smith took on a more significant role in his sophomore campaign.
Smith appeared in 15 games and made 10 starts in 2017. After starting the first two games of the 2018 season, his playing time diminished. He started in a Week 6 loss at Atlanta, then did not start again until Week 13. He appeared in all 16 games in 2018.
Quarterbacks earned a 109.8 passer rating on throws into Smith’s coverage last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He allowed a 63.2 completion percentage and four touchdowns. He intercepted one pass, in the fourth quarter of Tampa Bay’s Week 12 win over San Francisco.
Now with significant playing time in question, Smith lands on the roster bubble as the team prepares for its 2019 season. Training camp starts July 26.
Times staff writer Thomas Bassinger contributed to this report.