Donovan Smith is just the second player in Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise history to start every game in his first four seasons. Now that streak will continue as the Buccaneers have resolved one of their most critical lineup questions a week before the start of free agency. On Tuesday, Smith signed a new three-year deal that could keep the Buccaneers' starting left tackle in place through the 2021 campaign.
"Donovan has been a valuable player and a model of durability since we drafted him four years ago," said Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht. "We always aim to develop our players and reward them for their productivity and reliability, so keeping Donovan as a Buccaneer was a major priority for us this offseason. Donovan’s presence ensures continuity at one of our most crucial positions on the offensive line and I know our coaching staff is eager to begin working with him."
Smith, who has handled one of the game's most important positions almost without interruption since he was drafted 34th overall in 2015, inked his new contract eight days before he was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and just hours before the deadline for teams to make use of franchise or transition tags. The Buccaneers conceivably could have used a franchise tag to extend their negotiating window with Smith, but Tuesday's deal rendered that unnecessary.
View photos of OT Donovan Smith from the 2018 season.
The Buccaneers used a pair of second-round picks on offensive linemen in the 2015 draft, and both have now struck second deals with the team. Following the selection of Smith, Tampa Bay traded up to take Hobart's Ali Marpet at pick number 61. Both Smith and Marpet have been starters since the opening game of their shared rookie campaign, and both have been stalwarts on the offensive front for four years, rarely missing time due to injuries. Smith and Marpet are key parts of the team's effort to protect quarterback Jameis Winston, a fellow 2015 draftee (first overall) who will be playing on the fifth-year option of his original contract in 2019. Marpet signed a new five-year deal last October.
Smith, in particular, has been an iron man, playing every snap in 2015, 2016 and 2018 and missing just 30 plays in 2017. His run of 64 straight starts through his first four seasons matches that of Paul Gruber, another former left tackle and a member of the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium. Gruber actually extended his streak through five seasons (1988-92) and 80 straight starts before missing the first five games of 1993 during a contract impasse. Smith now has the opportunity to match or even exceed Gruber's remarkable streak.
In his first four years as a Buccaneer, Smith has been a key part of an offensive attack that has recorded the fifth-most total net yards (375.3). Tampa Bay also ranks sixth in passing yards (269.8), seventh in yards per play (5.76) and third in third-down conversion rate (43.7%) in that same span. Last year, the Buccaneers led the league in net passing yards and set franchise single-season records in yards, points and first downs.