Now that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have released former Pro Bowl tackle Donovan Smith, what does it all mean and what happens next?
It’s a moment that we all saw coming, even in an offseason of utter uncertainty.
Among the many moves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to make in the coming months, one of the most obvious was the team parting ways with starting left tackle Donovan Smith.
That time has finally come, as Smith is reportedly among the players being purged to get the team both back under the salary cap and on the right path forward.
According to NFL Network insider Tom Pelissero, the Bucs are releasing Smith ahead of free agency beginning next week.
It’s hardly surprising but it still comes as a bit of a downer given how important Smith has been to the team over the years. He came to Tampa Bay in the middle of the Dark Ages, but improved his game to Pro Bowl levels and was a part of an offensive line that won a Super Bowl three years ago.
Smith’s play last year left a lot to be desired, though, and is part of why he’s hitting the open market. He committed a career-high in penalties, oftentimes coming at the worst possible moments. Where Smith protected Tom Brady all the way to a Super Bowl in 2020, he was a drive-killer with some of his penalties last year and seems to have played himself out of a job.
So what happens next?
Buccaneers depth chart: Who will replace Donovan Smith?
The Bucs have been planning for the possibility of losing Smith this offseason. Tristan Wirfs has been rumored to be moving from right tackle to left tackle in order to replace Smith, which shows how dire the situation had become.
Wirfs is one of the best right tackles in football, and one of the league’s most athletic as well. He seems comfortable with the move to the left side and Kyle Trask — or whoever is quarterback for the Bucs in 2023 — probably won’t complain either.
It creates a hole on the right side of the line, but the Bucs clearly think that it’ll be easier to move Wirfs and replace Smith that way than try to dip into a shallow left tackle pool in free agency.
Which leads to the another thing.
How much money will Buccaneers save cutting Donovan Smith?
If his poor play didn’t seal his fate, the Bucs thorny salary cap situation certainly didn’t help.
Tampa Bay enters the offseason needing to shed $55 million to get back under the cap which is why moves like this are being made. Smith isn’t the only cap casualty, as Leonard Fournette and Cameron Brate were given walking papers as well.
Smith was already on the bubble given his big contract but the fact that he underperformed in a season where the Bucs had an out didn’t help his case. The Bucs will save close to $10 million in cap space by releasing Smith.
Between those three big cuts, the Bucs saved just over $15M in cap space this year, but it’s a double edged sword.
Tampa Bay incurs $7.9M in dead cap space by cutting him as well, which is a further sign that the team won’t be big players in free agency this offseason.
Rather than continue to kick the can down the road, the Bucs are taking their medicine this offseason instead of spreading dead cap space across multiple years. It may not feel great now, and certainly takes them out of the running to be big players in free agency, but it opens up a lot of possibilities in 2024 and beyond.