The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed center/guard Evan Dietrich-Smith to a four-year deal yesterday. This has naturally led to some speculation that the team's starting center Jeremy Zuttah could be released, given his just-okay play and his price tag of $4.5 million. This is unlikely to happen, though.
Jeremy Zuttah has never been a dominant player, but has always been a very useful one. He's a swing lineman who can play both center and guard, but has been most effective as a center in recent years. He doesn't quite have the size or strength to consistently generate push at guard, although he may be a better fit at that position in the Bucs' new system.
Zuttah's and Dietrich-Smith's versatility give the Buccaneers a lot of options along the interior offensive line. That alone is valuable, especially so given the fact that they don't know whether left guard Carl Nicks will be able to play this season. That's a good reason to keep Zuttah around. Besides, it would keep them from having to start Jamon Meredith again.
Could the Buccaneers use the $4.5 million provided by Jeremy Zuttah's release? Yeah, sure, probably. But they still have enough cap room to sign a third receiver and nickel cornerback, and none of the available options at either of those positions is worth paying big money for. Besides, releasing Michael Koenen or Connor Barth would make more sense: they're easier to replace at a low cost, and both are set to make $3.3 million this year.*
A Zuttah release would also mean they'd have to sign a new guard (or center), and finding one for a good price is likely to be problematic. In fact, the only remotely appealing interior lineman still available is Brian De La Puente. I'm not convinced the former Saint would even represent an upgrade over Zuttah, and with other teams looking to add linemen as well, he's unlikely to come at a much lower price point.
If Zuttah were to be released, the Bucs would do so only after finding a replacement for him at a cheaper number. And that replacement is most likely to come through the draft, not in free agency. So for now at least, expect Zuttah to remain on the roster.
* To be clear, Connor Barth is set to make $2 million in salary, and $71,875 per game in roster bonuses, per Pat Yasinskas. That amounts to $3.15 million in total. Barth's actual cap hit during the offseason will be $2 million, and it will rise with each game he spends on the active roster. For most intents and purposes, then, cutting him saves the Bucs $3.15 million on the salary cap.