The first three days of free agency have gone by at a frenetic pace for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In total, the Bucs have signed seven new players—the most recent addition came Friday in center Evan Dietrich-Smith, who started 16 games for the Green Bay Packers last season.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Dietrich-Smith signed a four-year deal worth $14.25 million. Add that to the previous six free-agent contracts and Tampa Bay has spent $140 million over the first 72 hours of free agency.
|Tampa Bay Free Agency: 2014|
|Player||Contract Length||Contract Value|
|Michael Johnson||5 years||$43.75 million|
|Anthony Collins||5 years||$30 million|
|Alterraun Verner||4 years||$25.75 million|
|Evan Dietrich-Smith||4 years||$14.25 million|
|Clinton McDonald||4 years||$12 million|
|Josh McCown||2 years||$10 million|
|Brandon Myers||2 years||$4.25 million|
Tampa Bay’s offensive line was in need of help, and Dietrich-Smith was the second lineman brought in by the Bucs this week (left tack Anthony Collins was the first). In his six NFL seasons, Dietrich-Smith has played both guard positions and center.
He’ll immediately be slotted in as the starting center for the Bucs.
Dietrich-Smith played all but 68 snaps at center for the Packers in 2013. In his 1,137 snaps he allowed five sacks, one quarterback hit and 10 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Compared with centers who played at least 60 percent of their team’s pass-blocking snaps, Dietrich-Smith ranked tied for seventh in the NFL with a 98.1 pass-blocking efficiency score.
Last season Green Bay rushed for 2,136 yards, and Dietrich-Smith was a key component to that success on the ground. Only six teams rushed for more yards in 2013.
With Dietrich-Smith at center, ESPN.com Bucs reporter Pat Yasinskas postulates that Tampa Bay has a decision to make with Jeremy Zuttah, who started 15 games for the Bucs at center last season and one at left guard. Tampa Bay can either move him to guard in 2014, or release him now and save $4.25 million against this year’s cap figure.
Roy Cummings, of The Tampa Tribune, thinks Zuttah's versatility will keep him around, even though the influx of money toward the cap would be huge.
Jenna Laine, of Sports Talk 1040 the Team, handed out an estimate of Tampa Bay’s current cap situation. She guessed the Bucs had between $8 and $12 million free after the Dietrich-Smith signing. While cutting Zuttah could increase Tampa Bay’s cap space by up to 50 percent (which sounds fantastic), the team would still have to go out and find a free agent who would be an upgrade over Zuttah and be as versatile.
That’s not easy to find, especially since it would be nice if this free agent would come with a much cheaper price tag.
No matter what Tampa Bay decides to do with Zuttah, grading the Dietrich-Smith signing is simple. Dietrich-Smith is a huge upgrade to what Zuttah provided at center in 2013.
According to Pro Football Focus, Zuttah was the 25th-ranked center last season, and gave up 23 total pressures (compared to 14 from Dietrich-Smith). Whoever plays quarterback for the Bucs—and Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith anointed newly signed passer Josh McCown as the 2014 starter—is going to like the extra protection Dietrich-Smith provides.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.