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Bucs bring back Ryan Smith as free agency settles

A leader on special teams, the cornerback is one of at least 10 free agents to return to the team.

TAMPA — Ryan Smith isn’t a starter on defense or a player who has made an enormous impact for the Bucs over the past four seasons. He missed the first four games of 2019 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

But he is a versatile defensive back with some experience starting in the league and a standout special teams player, the kind that is invaluable to every NFL team.

When the Bucs brought Smith back Friday on a one-year, $1.75 million deal, including $1 million guaranteed, it may have signaled a tapering down of free agency for Tampa Bay.

Bucs coach Bruce Arians has ruled out signing receiver Antonio Brown. He says the Bucs’ biggest needs will be for a pass-catching running back and depth in the secondary, most likely safety. The Bucs also will address the tackle position, likely in the draft.

The Bucs’ focus, aside from landing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, has been to retain as many of their own 19 free agents as possible.

The Bucs’ used the franchise tag on linebacker Shaquil Barrett and re-signed linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, linebacker Kevin Minter, defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches, safety Andrew Adams, tight ends Antony Auclair and Tanner Hudson, receiver Bryant Mitchell, Smith and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

The Bucs will likely re-sign quarterback Blaine Gabbert as a veteran backup to Brady but they also could still draft a quarterback in the later rounds.

Including Suh’s $8 million deal, the Bucs have about $14 million in salary cap space, but that does not include the rookie salary pool or money reserved for injured reserve.

The team lost linebacker/pass rusher Carl Nassib to the Raiders, defensive tackle Beau Allen to the Patriots, running back Peyton Barber to the Redskins and Breshad Perriman to the Jets.

Still un-signed among Bucs free agents are quarterback Jameis Winston, safety Darian Stewart, guard/center Earl Watford, linebacker Sam Acho, Gabbert and tackle Josh Wells.

A fourth-round pick in 2016, Smith has played in 57 games for the Bucs, starting 16. But he played only 50 defensive snaps in 2019 as the Bucs drafted three more defensive backs, His biggest impact continues to be on special teams. During his career, Smith has 113 tackles, an interception, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.