Donovan Smith could be an OT option for the Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears are heading into the draft without major upgrades on the offensive line this offseason. The Bears signed free agent offensive guard Nate Davis, but the team has not addressed the tackle position. One NFL analyst suggests the team is a fit for veteran offensive tackle Donovan Smith.
Several intriguing prospects are predicted to be available at the nine spot when the Bears pick. One of my favorite options is Paris Johnson Jr. from Ohio State. However, general manager Ryan Poles doesn’t want to be forced into taking whatever offensive lineman is there. If the Bears added a solid free agent before the draft at offensive tackle, the Bears could afford to take more of a risk on drafting Georgia’s defensive tackle Jalen Carter or Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba without worrying as much about Justin Fields’ protection next fall.
Super Bowl champion Smith could add depth to the Bears
Maurice Moton of Bleacher Report recently wrote about several free agents still due to sign a contract this offseason. They suggested former Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Smith as a player who would fit the Bears’ needs:
“With that said, Donovan Smith’s experience at left tackle will work in his favor; he’ll likely earn the most among the available offensive linemen. Smith has started in 124 games through eight campaigns.
Smith isn’t a Pro Bowl or All-Pro tackle, though he’s had a decent career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Going into his age-30 term, Smith should be able to push for a starting job, which means a team may be willing to pay him at least $10 million per year.
Thus far, seven offensive linemen have signed deals worth $10 million or more annually in free agency. Smith should be the eighth, banking a little more than offensive tackle Andre Dillard, who signed a three-year, $29 million contract with the Tennessee Titans. Dillard has only started in nine career games.”
Moton predicts Smith’s contract to be for three years, $33 million, with $20 million of that guaranteed.
Donovan Smith’s recent production
The 2015 second-round pick has never made a Pro Bowl or been nominated as an All-Pro offensive lineman. He’s had up-and-down seasons recently. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith earned the worst grade of his career in 2022 (58.1) when he gave up six sacks and 12 penalties. 2021 was his best graded season (83.3), when he gave up one sack in 784 pass-blocking attempts.
If Smith could return to his 2021 production, he’d be worth every penny of that $11 million average yearly. However, $20 million in guarantees after last season is a risk, especially if say he couldn’t beat out Braxton Jones for the starting left tackle spot next year.
Is Smith worth the costs for the Bears?
A price reduction and fewer in guaranteed money might be helpful if the Bears want to draft another position besides offensive tackle in the first round (or want to trade back for more capital). Adding Smith while drafting another offensive tackle on day two could give the Bears much-needed depth next season while allowing a rookie to progress during the season.
Having Smith or Jones as the right tackle for the Bears next season would be optimal compared to the current starting five. The problem now is that taking Smith as a short-term band-aid in free agency would likely preclude Poles from drafting an elite offensive tackle. If Poles waits to sign Smith after the draft and takes another position of need, the competition for the left tackle might be high in early May. This calculation all depends on how valuable Poles thinks the top offensive tackles are in this draft.
After last Smith’s previous season, the safest bet is to wait until the draft.
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