Bucs OL Evan Smith gets bonus, will be back for 2017
Bucs offensive lineman Evan Smith, reported by some as a potential salary-cap cut this year, received a $1-million bonus for being on Tampa Bay's roster Wednesday and will be back with the team this season.
Smith, 30, has flexibility to play both center and guard and started at both positions last season. He made $2.5-million in 2016 but his compensation will increase to $4.5-million in the final year of the four-year contract he signed in 2014. If he were not in the Bucs' plans this fall, they wouldn't have kept him on roster long enough to trigger the bonus.
Smith will at least be a valuable backup along the interior line, and he could be back as the team's starting center, a role he held in 2014. The Bucs have not re-signed their 2016 starter, Joe Hawley, who remains an unrestricted free agent, nearly a week into free agency. Smith started one game (against the Bears) last season when Hawley was injured and another at left guard (against the Saints) when injuries forced Kevin Pamphile to step in at right tackle.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has only said that he'll put his best five linemen on the field, a phrasing that could suggest some kind of position change from their 2016 roles. Among the Bucs' options with current personnel:
-- Move one of their 2016 starting guards -- Pamphile or Ali Marpet -- inside to center, with now-healthy J.R. Sweezy taking the vacant starting guard role and Smith remaining a top backup at center/guard.
-- Move Pamphile to right tackle to compete with Demar Dotson, with Sweezy stepping in at left guard and Smith stepping back in at center. One of several options -- Ben Gottschalk, Josh Allen, James Stone or a rookie -- would make the team as a backup center in that scenario.
-- Put Smith at center and keep the guards where they are, leaving the non-starter out of Sweezy/Pamphile as a backup guard.
-- The Bucs could also draft an offensive lineman, though it would likely need to be a high pick to beat out the existing options and the investment made in them.