The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a critical addition to their offensive line in free agency, landing former Baltimore center Ryan Jensen last week. Now they've also made sure one of their own didn't get away via that same free agent market.
On Friday, the Buccaneers re-signed versatile and experienced lineman Evan Smith, who had become an unrestricted free agent on March 14, two a new two-year deal. Smith has opened 28 games for Tampa Bay over the last four seasons and has capably manned all three interior-line spots. In fact, in 2017 alone Smith started at least one game each at center, right guard and left guard.
As much value as Smith brings to the Buccaneers with his ability to play multiple positions, he could also factor into the competition to start at one of the guard spots. The signing of Jensen presumably shifts Ali Marpet back to one of the guard spots after he started at center in 2017, but the other starting guard for 2018 isn't as easy to predict. Kevin Pamphile, who started 15 games at left guard last season, has left for the Tennessee Titans via free agency, and right guard starter J.R. Sweezy finished the year on injured reserve. Third-year man Caleb Benenoch could factor into the lineup, as well, but Smith gives the Buccaneers another reliable option.
Smith played his first four NFL seasons in Green Bay after originally joining the Packers as an undrafted free agent out of Idaho State. He played in 13 games as a reserve in his 2009 rookie campaign, then spent much of the 2010 campaign in Seattle. Smith returned to the Packers late that year and ended up making a total of nine starts on Green Bay's line over the 2010-11 seasons.
In 2012, Smith stepped in as the Packers' starting center and opened all 16 games before becoming an unrestricted free agent the following offseason. The Buccaneers signed him to a four-year deal and he held down the starting center job in Tampa in 2014 before transitioning into a more versatile role for the past three years. Smith started the last five games of the Bucs' most recent season, three at center and two at right guard, as a rash of injuries hit the original starting five.
The Buccaneers have now re-signed four players from their 2017 roster who were set to become or did become unrestricted free agents. In addition to Smith, the team has also brought back defensive end Will Clarke, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and safety Keith Tandy. The Bucs have also retained two potential restricted free agents in tight end Cameron Brate and linebacker Adarius Glanton and two potential exclusive rights free agents in running back Peyton Barber and cornerback Javien Elliott.