Dietrich-Smith becomes part of Bucs' foundation
From the start, it was a family decision. Evan Dietrich-Smith gathered information and weighed his options, approaching the same free agency process so many players go through.
There were multiple teams interested, he said. Speaking with local media on Wednesday, Dietrich-Smith would not share whether the Green Bay Packers ever offered a contract. Ultimately, the four-year, $14.25 million contract the Tampa Buccaneers offered in March was too much for Green Bay's former center to pass.
"I appreciate everything the Packers did for me, giving me the opportunities they did, all the years I spent there," Dietrich-Smith said. "But at the end of the day you only get so many years in this league, and you've got to kind of do what's best for you. … When it came down to it, I made the best decision for me and my family, and that was to come down here to Tampa to help build a winning program."
This "new chapter" in life – as Dietrich-Smith called it – has gotten off to a rough start on the field.
In four seasons with the Packers – including 16 starts in 2013 – Dietrich-Smith grew accustomed to playoff chases in December. Instead, the Bucs enter Sunday's game with a 2-12 record, tied for the worst in the NFL.
The Packers need a win on Sunday to stay in the race for a first-round bye. For the Bucs, the best outcome for their long-term success would be a loss, which would keep them in the chase for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
It's no secret what Tampa Bay would likely do with the No. 1 pick. The Bucs need a quarterback, someone to command their offense. With Dietrich-Smith, first-year coach Lovie Smith said the team has its center in place.
"Evan, like a lot of our players, isn't used to losing as much as we have down here right now," Smith said, "but he's a part of that foundation I'm talking about and why we're going to dig ourselves out of this hole. Evan, you guys know exactly who he is. He's a confident football player. He's not a guy that's shy in the corner and won't do any talking. He's been a good addition to our team."
Dietrich-Smith has followed Green Bay from afar. He still has friends inside the Packers locker room. With the NFC North and NFC South playing each other this season, there have been plenty of common opponents.
Even if there weren't, Dietrich-Smith said he wouldn't be able to avoid Green Bay's success in his absence.
"You can't help it because they're all over the news," Dietrich-Smith said. "When you're the lead dog, everybody's talking about you. I'm happy for the success they're having this year."
He's seen the Packers enough to feel like he still knows the team well. Which, of course, he does. For five years, Dietrich-Smith competed against Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers' system in practice. That knowledge doesn't quickly fade.
Dietrich-Smith said there are subtle differences with this Packers team. On film, he sees more speed on Green Bay's defense this season. He believes former teammates Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang have developed into one of the three best guard tandems in the league. He said his replacement, rookie center Corey Linsley, has greatly benefited from their leadership.
Of course, some things never change. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is still playing at an MVP-caliber level.
"I think he's definitely the best player in the league right now, from just watching him on film," Dietrich-Smith said. "… You can definitely tell Aaron's on top of it this year. I didn't get a chance to see the Buffalo game last week but – besides that game – I don't think anybody in the league has pretty much done what he's done.
"It's not just him – everybody on the offense is playing great. Jordy (Nelson) and Randall (Cobb) are playing great. The guys up front are playing really well. Eddie (Lacy is) having another good year."
Dietrich-Smith said his Bucs teammates have asked him for tips and pointers this week, trying to tap into his Packers knowledge. He's happy to oblige. This week, he'd like nothing more than a win against his former team.
But Dietrich-Smith said Sunday isn't personal. He's not trying to show the Packers what they missed by letting him walk away.
"Nah, I had more than enough games there to prove what I can do," Dietrich-Smith said. "It's been an up-and-down year for our team. We've been kind of going in a couple different directions, but I don't really care. I see it as another game, a game that we want to go out and win. I don't think they're going to sit there and say, 'Hey, we need to get after this guy or that guy,' or, 'We've got to make sure we don't let Evan do X, Y and Z.'
"I'm one player on our team on an offense of 11 guys. I'm part of the cog. My play's going to have to speak for itself. I can do what I can do and, at the end of the game, we hope to come out on top."
-- firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood