TAMPA, Fla. — What a difference a couple of years has made for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise.
In 2019, the Bucs re-signed left tackle Donovan Smith to a three-year deal, guaranteeing him $27 million with the potential to earn $41.25 million in total.
When the deal went down, fans of the franchise were furious. I remember taking calls from some who literally told James Yarcho and I on our Locked On Bucs Podcast they’d rather have a lesser talented left tackle than see Smith back in pewter.
Think about that. We had gotten so deep down the well of angst towards Smith that there were people who fully acknowledged potential replacements would perform worse, but still preferred those options over the return of the team’s first second-round pick in 2015.
This move came just months after the hiring of head coach Bruce Arians− a move largely celebrated after the failed tenure of Dirk Koetter. The first season under Arians didn’t go as planned (or as hoped, anyway).
Jameis Winston had one of his best/worst seasons as an NFL quarterback, the Buccaneers finished with a losing record once again, and Winston was not long for the NFC South’s Florida franchise.
Some criticized Winston. Some threw their anger at Arians. The rest were just upset and not sure what would happen next. Then came Tom Brady, a surprisingly mixed reaction from the fan base with him, and then of course, a Super Bowl championship.
A funny thing happened in the 2020 NFL Season. As the year went on, there was less and less negativity towards Smith. Once the weekly recipient of blame and accountability for stalled drives and bad offensive performances, Smith wasn’t being celebrated, but he wasn’t being hated either.
Then, this past offseason, the Buccaneers extended Smith. Tacking on more years to his expiring contract along with some financial salsa dancing to bring back their championship front line intact and at a more team-friendly cost.
Some celebrated Smith’s extension and willingness to allow some creative bookkeeping. Others said nothing. I’m sure there is still the lingering anti-Smith person out there. But they were quiet. I guess winning really does solve many things.
It doesn’t solve everything though. Pro Football Focus has been putting out their very early pre-season positional rankings and when they came out with their offensive line lists, Smith was the only Bucs member missing.
Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, and Tristan Wirfs all landed in the Top-32 in their respective position groups (PFF grouped them in tackles, interior lineman, and center groupings), but Smith didn’t make the cut.
It just goes to show: While winning may have quelled the local chapter of antagonists in the Donovan Smith football life story, one championship as the blindside protector of a Canton-bound statue of a quarterback isn’t going to do it. At least not if you’re Pro Football Focus.
Who knows, maybe a second Super Bowl run will be enough. I’m sure the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have every intention of finding out.
For more on this story and for more on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, check out the Locked On Bucs Podcast.