TAMPA ― The worst performance of Donovan Smith’s career, combined with the Bucs’ salary-cap issues, led to the team’s decision Tuesday to release the left tackle after eight seasons.
Smith, 29, signed a two-year, $31.8 million extension in March 2021. But the Bucs will save $9.95 million on the cap by parting ways with him.
“I want to thank Donovan for all that he has done for the Buccaneers on and off the field over the past eight seasons,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said in a statement. “He stepped in as our starter at left tackle in 2015, and his durability and dependability at one of the most important positions in football played a significant role in our offensive success during his time here.”
A second-round pick from Penn State in 2015, Smith started 124 regular-season games during his time with the Bucs. He missed only six, including just two over his first seven seasons.
But he suffered a hyperextended elbow in the season-opening win Sept. 11 at Dallas. That may have contributed to a forgettable year in which he was second in the NFL for the most accepted penalties with 12 for a league-high 100 yards. Two of his holding calls took away touchdowns. He also allowed a team-high six sacks.
Smith is the third known veteran the Bucs plan to part with this offseason, joining running back Leonard Fournette and tight end Cameron Brate. Place-kicker Ryan Succop also is expected to be a cap casuality.
One option the Bucs are considering to replace Smith is to move over All-Pro Tristan Wirfs from right tackle in 2023.
In addition, the Bucs did not use their franchise player tag for the first time in four years by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline. Before releasing Smith, the Bucs were $58.26 million over the $224.8 cap according to Overthecap.com. They must be compliant to that figure by 4 p.m. on March 15, the start of the new league year. That doesn’t include the expected release of Fournette and Brate, who have been informed by the team they intend to part ways.
The most likely player to receive the franchise tag would have been cornerback Jamel Dean. He was the fifth-ranked player who could enter free agency by Pro Football Focus, a list that included Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, who agreed to a three-year, $105 million contract with Seattle on Monday.
The franchise tag for Dean, 26, would have added another $18.16 million to the Bucs’ bloated salary cap. They are hopeful of eventually reaching a new agreement with Dean, as well as others, such as inside inside linebacker Lavonte David and safety Mike Edwards.
The Bucs had utilized the franchise tag the three previous years. Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett received the tag in 2020 after setting a club record with 19-1/2 sacks the previous season. He played under the one-year contract before signing a multiyear deal in 2021.
The Bucs made receiver Chris Godwin their franchise player the past two seasons. He signed a three-year, $60 million contract only nine days after getting the designation last year.
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Dean is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro. He started 15 games and had two interceptions and eight passes defensed. He has allowed a completion percentage of only 51.95 over the past two seasons.
Spoctrac projects his market value to be at three years, $49.67 million or roughly $16.5 million per year, lower than the franchise tag value of more than $18 million.
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