What was the message in re-signing Smith?

by Gary Shelton on March 7, 2019 · 2 comments

in general

Donovan Smith is richer, but are the Bucs better?/TIM WIRT

Thursday, 4 a.m.

If you want, you can think of it as a down payment on stability.

Heck, the Bucs are going to need a left tackle, aren't they? Jameis Winston doesn't need to be hit on his blind side. Someone has to open holes for the running game, right?

Maybe that's why the Bucs gave $41.25 million to Donovan Smith.

Or, if you want, you can think of it as a new coach overspending.

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Hey, the Bucs weren't that great on the offensive line with Smith, were they? There was no daylight to run to. Surely, there were better options available than a guy who has started for a lot of bad teams.

But maybe that's why the Bucs gave $41.25 million to Donovan Smith.

He is one of the most polarizing athletes in Tampa Bay, a player who former coaches swear is closing in on Pro Bowl status, yet a player who is often in the dunking tank of the league critics. You like him or you hate him. There is no middle ground with Smith.

So what should you think of Smith?

Really, it depends on what you think of Bruce Arians, doesn't it?

This was the first thick wad of cash that Arians' regime has spent since he arrived in Tampa Bay, after all, and you'd like to believe it was money well-spent. You'd like to think that the new coaches at One Buc Place broke down film of Smith and the other free agents who are going to be available, and that they decided Smith was more  of an answer than a question. You'd like to think that general manger Jason Licht left the decision up to Arians.

Look, it's hard to blame the Bucs for wanting to spend their draft picks elsewhere than a learn-as-you-go offensive lineman. If the Bucs were to draft a lineman, that would mean they couldn't draft a linebacker, or a defensive end, or a cornerback. That would have left the Bucs trolling free agency, where the catches are not often reliable and are extremely expensive.

General manager Jason Licht referred to Smith as "a massive person has a great, great combination of athleticism, strength — but more importantly his intelligence and his desire to be out on the field every Sunday. I think that gets talked about a lot, but at the same time doesn’t get talked about enough. That’s a quality that’s hard to find, especially with his leadership and the respect that he has from his teammates for loving the game, wanting to be better, and wanting to get better every day. So, in addition to getting and securing him for the next — you know he signed a three-year contract — he also has a tremendous upside still. I’m looking forward to him reaching that potential in the next few years."

Still, almost $14 million a year is a lot of money for a player who has never come close to a Pro Bowl. And, as the old saying goes, overpaying a player doesn't make him better. It just makes him rich.

In a way, though, this was a good signing. If you remember, Lovie Smith was new to the Bucs job back in 2014, and one of the first things he did was point a thumb's-down in the direction of Donald Penn. All Penn has done is make two Pro Bowls in the years since.

It happens. New coaches look at the film and decide that anyone could be better than this guy or that one. Ray Perkins, in his first season, said no to Steve Young. His bust can be visited in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sam Wyche said no to Charles McRae, another tackle, and his fame can be remembered by what a bust he was.

That's the hardest thing for a new coach, deciding who to keep and who to cut. When Penn was cut, there weren't a lot of voices shouting in protest. Basically, he was about where Smith is now.

Smith talked about the task of starting 64 straight games.

“It takes a lot," Smith said. "My hardest days are Mondays and Tuesdays normally after the game. It just takes a lot. You just have to be physically prepared, mentally prepared and just know that it’s going to be a battle. All game, 60 to 90 plays, depending on how you play and stuff like that. It’s great, It’s fun. It’s a sport where you can sit there and beat up on grown men, have fun with your guys from the line as well and go out there and pretty much be a kid and play a game you love week in and week out.”

How can Smith improve?

:Just in general, being a bigger voice," Smith said. "People lead different ways. I’m kind of the pull you to the side kind of guy. I could be more outspoken in my leadership. Like I said, just continue to build who I am on the field. Consistency – going out there and playing week-in and week-out, and just help the team win, because that’s the plan here. We want to sit there, we want to turn this thing around and get it going. Can’t have the Lightning only balling out here in Tampa, so we’re going to turn it around and have some fun doing it.”

In other words, if the Bucs didn't accomplish anything else, they didn't create another hole. And that's good. There are too many on the roster for now, and if a coach is forever filling holes from outside, he's running in place.

Of course, fans will differ on this, the way they differ on Smith as a player. Once, fans wanted to be the team's quarterback. Then, once fantasy football began, they wanted to be the coach. Now, with the salary cap and the emphasis on the draft, they want to be the general manager. Same delusions, different jobs.

So ask yourself this:

Did the Bucs get better this week? No, probably not. Smith is who Smith is.

Did they get worse? No. And that's the thing to remember. There are still improvements that must be made.

Left tackle, however, will not be one of them. They're paying for great; they're hoping for good. Is that enough of a value?

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