There may not be a bigger decision when it comes to free agency than Donovan Smith. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to decide whether or not they want to pay him a shade over $14 million on a franchise tag or sign him to a long-term deal.
Reports are that Smith is expected to return next year. According to Scott Reynolds of pewterreport.com, Smith will either sign a long-term deal with around $12-$13 million annually or play under the aforementioned $14 million franchise tag.
Most of the time, this is an easy decision for a left tackle that has started every game during their NFL career. But Smith is different. Yes, he’s been elite in terms of durability - he’s only one of seven offensive lineman to start every game since 2015 - but he’s been the exact opposite on the field.
Inconsistency has plagued Smith’s career in Tampa Bay. There have been moments where he looks like an All-Pro and there have been times where he looks like he doesn’t belong in the NFL.
The downside to both deals is pretty obvious. Either you shell out a long-term deal and Smith continues to play as he has in the past or you cough up $14 million in 2019 and hope he works out.
Don’t forget the fact that if he lights it up under the franchise tag, then his price for a long-term deal could be even more in 2020.
The plus side is that if Smith does in fact ball out in 2019, then the Bucs will hopefully have their answer at that position.
When you add everything together and consider the Bucs’ salary cap situation, the decision concerning Smith may dictate how free agency plays out for Tampa Bay in 2019.
But what if Tampa Bay had another option? What if there was another player they could roll the dice on for a similar price, but said player has much more upside than Smith?
Enter Trent Brown.
I detailed Brown a bit in my offensive line preview for free agency. He is almost the exact opposite of Smith. Brown has overachieved throughout his entire career and was a seventh round pick, while Smith has been underwhelming overall and was drafted in the second round.
NFL scouts have had their eye on Brown for the past few seasons now after Von Miller declared that Brown was one of the best tackles he has had played against in the NFL.
I made my position clear on Trent Brown last week on my pod, but to put it simply again here: I don’t think any T in free agency has been close to as good as him the last 3 years nor offers the upside he does. In a league starved for good T play, he’s v good on the left or right.— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) February 21, 2019
What makes him all the more valuable - especially for Tampa Bay - is the fact that he can play both left and right tackle. This is important considering the fact that Demar Dotson is getting older and has battled through injuries over the past two seasons. At 26 years old, Brown would offer an up-and-coming, versatile option that could help Ali Marpet anchor the offensive line for years to come.
The expectation is that Brown will get paid, but how much? One of our own at Bucs Nation believes that Brown could reset the market considering how much he has improved over the years and the fact that he just won the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots.
Obviously, this is worst-case scenario when it comes to Brown’s contract situation and the Bucs’ salary cap position. Nate Solder will have the highest cap hit in 2019 out of all offensive lineman at $17 million. If Brown were to reset the market, then he would have to make more than $17 million, even if it’s just a dollar more.
Now, there is also a chance that he doesn’t command this much money. While Brown has played well so far, he was placed on IR with a shoulder injury in 2017 and was traded to the Patriots during the 2018 draft.
He may not even started at all in 2018 if it weren’t for first-round pick Isaiah Wynn’s ACL injury that cost him his rookie year. Brown has tremendous upside, but he hasn’t quite put it all together just yet and that may cost him a few million.
But let’s say his price tag costs anywhere between $12-$16 million - should the Bucs take the chance on him instead of Smith? It’s a dice roll on both players, but Brown seems to have more upside. Would the (maybe) extra $2-$3 million for Brown really matter in the grand scheme of things?
Just something to chew on as we continue to grind through the days before free agency.
I’d rather take the chance on.....
This poll is closed