The Buccaneers have lost Kwon Alexander, leaving their linebacking corps pretty thin. As far as starting caliber linebackers, there’s one - Lavonte David. David is versatile enough to play inside or outside in a 3-4, but that still leaves some holes that need to be filled.
As far as the Bucs’ free agency approach is concerned? Let the initial, overpriced wave die down then start to pick up guys that can contribute immediately at the price they should be paid. Tampa Bay sits with $13-million in cap space after trading DeSean Jackson to Philadelphia but still have plenty of moves they can make to create more space.
Za’Darius Smith is a guy that could come in and contribute immediately without breaking the bank the was Alexander just did in San Francisco.
Za’Darius Smith’s Career
Smith was a fourth round pick for Baltimore in 2015 and has been a reliable guy over the past few seasons. He started eight games in 2018 for the Ravens while only having started eight games in the previous three years combined. Smith has 119 tackles, five passes defensed, three forced fumbles, and 18.5 sacks - including 8.5 last year. Basically, when he’s had his opportunities, he’s capitalized. Becoming a full time starter would allow Smith to really shine and grow as an outside linebacker but he was buried for most of his four seasons by a deep linebacker group in Baltimore.
Why The Buccaneers Need Him
Well, I’ve touched on that a bit already, but he checks all the boxes I believe the Buccaneers are looking for. He’s productive when he’s on the field, he can get to the quarterback, and he will be affordable. The Bucs are desperate for linebackers right now, but they never stood a chance at paying Alexander what he got in free agency. They had a number in mind - obviously still concerned about the ACL injury - and the two sides were never close in asking price. Kudos to Kwon, but he was never getting that kind of money from the Bucs. Smith, on the other hand, can help fill that void and become an edge presence for Todd Bowles new look defense.
What Will It Cost?
He’s a statistical comparison to the Texans’ Whitney Merciuls and the Packers’ Nick Perry. He creates pressure, is a reliable tackler, and averaged over a half sack per game last season. Spotrac estimates his market value at $8.9-million per year, but I would venture to guess he’ll come in a little below that. Granted, Alexander’s agreement with the 49ers paired with whatever C.J. Mosley ends up with will play more in Smith’s favor than the Bucs’. The linebacker market, at the moment, is wild. If the Bucs can snag him in the $7-8-million per year range, he will certainly be worth that.
Will It Happen?
Za’Darius Smith is certainly a name to keep an eye on. Given the market for linebackers right now, Smith will likely be a wave two guy when things settle down. The longer these players are out there, the more down-to-earth their prices become. If he lingers on the market for a week or so, his price will likely land in the range the Bucs are willing to pay. He’s a great fit if Tampa Bay can get him at the appropriate price point.