After an excellent final quarter of the 2020 season and an excellent 2021 season, Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith has found himself on track to make 2022 one the worst seasons of his career.

Per Pro Football Focus, Smith is on pace to allow 36 total pressures and 9.0 sacks in 2022. The former is his highest mark since 2019, when he finished with 35, and the latter represents a career-worst if the threshold is crossed.

And, there are penalty issues, too. Smith’s nine flags are seventh-most among all offensive linemen in the NFL. They have come at very critical times, too. One only needs to go back to last week in order to find Smith’s holding penalty on the would-be game-winning touchdown to Chris Godwin. Instead of six points, the Buccaneers were pushed to a 1st-and-goal from the 15 as they attempted their comeback.

“It’s a concern – he [Smith] knows he didn’t play his best game, we know he didn’t play his best game,” Todd Bowles told reporters Wednesday. “He’ll bounce back from it, he understands that. We expect more from him and he expects more from himself.”

Smith’s play has dropped off so precipitously that even ESPN’s Seth Walder named him as one of the top-5 players who have seen a major decline in play:

“Smith has never been a top performer when it comes to blocking win rates. But his numbers this season are simply remarkable — and not in a good way. The Bucs’ left tackle ranks 63rd out of 67 qualifiers in pass block win rate and is last among qualifying tackles in run block win rate.

To make matters worse, Smith is tied for the league lead in holding penalties (five) and has cost the Bucs 75 yards via penalties this season — worst among all offensive linemen.”

Smith’s disappointing play has been frustrating, to say the least. And it certainly hasn’t matched up to his $15.75 million base salary/$18.4 million cap hit, which represent the third-highest and second-highest figures, respectively, among all offensive tackles in 2022.

2023 won’t be a cheap year for Smith, either. He has a $15.25 million base salary and registers as a $17.9 million cap hit. For a team that’s currently $40+ million over the cap in 2023, I think it’s safe to say the Buccaneers need and want Smith to get out of this funk as quickly as possible.

However, there’s also an out if Smith continues to struggle. The Buccaneers stand to save $9.95 million in cap room if they release Smith during the offseason and they stand to save $15.25 million if they designate him as a post-June 1 cut, per Over The Cap.

The latter amount can certainly come in handy for the Buccaneers, especially since they are in the aforementioned position with next year’s salary cap.

But, would the Buccaneers actually cut Smith?

It’s extremely unlikely. There are a myriad of reasons that could explain why Smith has taken such a big step back in 2022 and all of said reasons can be argued as reasons why Smith needs to stick around in 2023.

Ali Marpet’s retirement, his elbow injury, and the poor play of rookie guard Luke Goedeke are three major factors in Smith’s decline. Granted, the struggles continued after Nick Leverett took over for Goedeke, but the point remains that Goedeke’s poor play certainly affected Smith in the big picture.

Smith is often left on an island to defend some of the best pass rushers in the game, as well. And the Buccaneers aren’t going to be able to give him much help since Tristan Wirfs is out.

Think about it: Which player does the staff probably think needs more help than the other – Smith or Josh Wells?

The Buccaneers saw what kind of player Smith can be from 2020-2021. That ceiling is high enough to where they’ll be willing to roll the dice on the last year of his contract. If they can get the Smith from that span, or even 90% of him, they’ll think it’s worth it.

The team is also pretty damn loyal to its veterans, even if it’s to a fault at times. Buccaneers GM Jason Licht drafted Smith back in 2015 and has stuck by his side all the way until now. Even when Smith was the definition of inconsistent for several years.

And, when thinking big picture: What if Kyle Trask becomes the Buccaneers QB1 in 2023? Someone has to protect his blindside and the Buccaneers are going to need to give him good protection in order to properly evaluate him. Smith has the ability to help set that scenario up.

The Buccaneers are going to have to make a lot of decisions and they’re going to make a lot of moves in 2023, but don’t expect Smith to be one of them.

Now, whatever happens after that is anyone’s guess. But in terms of now and the 2023 season – the Buccaneers and Donovan Smith are built to last.

You can check out Walder’s full column, here.

Featured image via Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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