Photos of the Buccaneers' complete roster.
On Wednesday, defensive end Jacquies Smith signed the one-year tender offer extended to him in March as a restricted free agent. The signing of the document was mostly a formality for Smith, but having him back on the field in 2017 could prove very significant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers hope Smith can once again be an important part of their pass-rush rotation after he missed almost the entire 2016 season due to a knee injury. Smith had 6.5 sacks in 2014 and 7.0 in 2015, in both cases providing the team with its best edge-rushing complement to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. He was expected to once again take on a big role on the Buccaneers' defensive line last year but instead suffered a torn ACL early in the team's season-opening win at Atlanta.
As a restricted free agent, Smith was able to negotiate contracts with other teams for a six-week period after the start of free agency on March 9. The Buccaneers would have had an opportunity to match any offer he signed with another club. The deadline for restricted free agents to negotiate with outside teams was April 21, a week before the draft. After not signing with another team, Smith's remaining option was to sign his original tender offer, which thus becomes his one-year contract for the 2017 season. Prior to signing that offer, Smith had already been participating in the Buccaneers' offseason program via an injury waiver.
Under this system, Smith is due to become an unrestricted free agent next spring. If he has the type of comeback season of which some believe he is capable, he could attract significant interest. Last week, fellow Buccaneers defensive end Robert Ayers said that Smith "was getting ready to have a monster season last year before he got hurt."
If Ayers is right, and if Smith can head into 2017 with the same sort of promise, the Buccaneers could have an enviable amount of defensive end depth. In his first year after signing with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent, Ayers fought through injuries to contribute 6.5 sacks, tied with McCoy for the team lead. Noah Spence, a 2016 second-round pick, used a midseason surge to get to 5.5 sacks and could be poised for a breakout season in 2017. Defensive end Will Gholston, a superb run-stopper who is intent on having more impact as a pass-rusher, signed a new five-year deal with the Buccaneers just before the start of free agency. George Johnson is also back after spending all of last year on injured reserve and such young contributors as Ryan Russell and DaVonte Lambert help round out a deep group.
Smith, who played his college ball at Missouri, first entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins in 2012. He had a brief stint in the Canadian Football League before spending time with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. The Buccaneers acquired Smith as a waiver claim from the Bills just before the start of the 2014 season, and by midseason he had emerged as an impact player on defense. In addition to his 13.5 sacks in 28 games as a Buccaneer, Smith has also forced four fumbles and recovered four, returning one for a touchdown in 2015.