TAMPA — The last time Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith did any kind of evaluation of free-agent guard Richie Incognito, he concluded the 2012 Pro Bowler was a pretty good football player.
That's why Smith decided to bring the eight-year NFL veteran to One Buc Place for a visit late Monday.
As of Monday afternoon, though, visiting was all the Bucs planned to do.
Smith stressed that point repeatedly during a 15-minute news conference devoted almost exclusively to the decision to take a look at one of the game's most controversial figures for his role in a bullying scandal last season in Miami.
“We haven't signed anyone,'' Smith said. “I think we owe it to ourselves to compare our roster to what is out there and Richie is part of that. So, I think we should just wait and let the process take care of itself and go from there.”
That the Bucs have even begun the process of evaluating the 31-year-old Incognito suggests they are not pleased with at least one of their starting guards.
After all, Incognito would come carrying a lot of baggage.
In a 144-page report presented to the NFL by investigator Ted Wells in February, Incognito was named the ringleader of a trio of Dolphins players who “engaged in a pattern of harassment'' that resulted in teammate Jonathan Martin leaving the team in October.
Incognito was suspended by the Dolphins for the final eight games of the 2013 season and became a free agent when his contract expired in March.
Citing his need to get the Bucs ready for the start of the season, Smith said he has not read the complete Wells Report, but is aware of much of what is in it.
“Until now, Richie Incognito was just a name,'' Smith said. “Now that we're bringing him in, we'll do a little bit more research on him. But I'm coming in with an open mind. That's why you meet someone.''
The meeting is expected to extend into Tuesday, with Incognito expected to be given a physical and possibly work out for the team.
Like Smith, though, Bucs general manager Jason Licht insisted the team was only kicking the tires on Incognito, writing in a text message to The Tampa Tribune on Monday: “Remember it's only a VISIT.''
Since missing the entire 2005 season with a knee injury, Incognito has started all of the 102 NFL games he's played. He played in 55 games, mostly at left guard, in four years with the Dolphins, allowing 17 sacks, 19 quarterback hits and 29 quarterback hurries.
One thing Incognito has not done during his career is win. During stays in St. Louis, Buffalo and Miami, he never played on a winning team or in a playoff game.
Despite those credentials, and a past that includes being named the NFL's Dirtiest Player in a 2009 poll conducted by The Sporting News, Bucs players said they trust Licht and Smith to make the right call on Incognito.
“In this situation, you trust management - Jason and Lovie and those guys,” quarterback Josh McCown said. “And anytime you bring in a new guy, you welcome him and you try to make him feel like he's one of the guys.”
Center Evan Dietrich-Smith, who has emerged as the leader of the rebuilt offensive line, thinks the unit showed improvement in recent weeks, but understands the decision to look at Incognito.
“I don't see it as desperate,'' Dietrich-Smith said. “But from what I see, they don't bring guys in that they don't feel can help the team win. It's a business. And if this helps our business, which is winning, then that's part of the game.”
The Bucs opened the preseason with Oneil Cousins at left guard and Jamon Meredith at right guard, but benched Meredith after one game in favor of first-year pro Patrick Omameh.
“What I've been saying is, and you can go back and check, we're pleased with what we've been doing,'' Smith said Monday. “But we look at all available guys, period.
“And I'm going to give everybody the benefit of the doubt until I have information that tells me otherwise. And that's where are right now. I just think we owe it to our football team to do it.''