TAMPA — The pace of free-agent signings at One Buc Place has definitely slowed, but it certainly hasn’t stopped.
Seemingly focused now on improving the offense, the Buccaneers on Friday signed former Packers starting center Evan Dietrich Smith to a four-year contract.
The deal is worth $14.25 million and contains $7.25 million in guarantees, according to ESPN.
Dietrich-Smith’s arrival does not necessarily signal the end for Bucs starting center Jeremy Zuttah, who is slated to make $4.5 million this year. Bucs officials on Friday expressed a desire to keep both players, at least for now.
Versatility is the reason.
Though they have made most of their recent starts at center, Zuttah and Dietrich-Smith also have started several games at guard in their careers, so one could end up playing there.
“Evan is a tough, physical lineman who gives us added size and versatility at the center and guard positions,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said in a statement. “He is a very intelligent player with a strong work ethic who is hitting his prime and provides more veteran leadership on our offensive line.”
On Thursday, Tampa Bay signed free agent Anthony Collins and named him the new starting left tackle.
The Bucs also released two veteran offensive linemen this week: two-time Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph and 2011 Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn.
After starting the last four games of the 2012 season at center, including two playoff games, Dietrich-Smith (6-foot-2, 308 pounds) started all 16 games at center for Green Bay in 2013.
Dietrich-Smith, 27, was rated the top center in free agency by former Indianapolis Colts president and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian.
“I actually rooted for the Buccaneers as a kid after meeting John Lynch at a football camp,” Dietrick-Smith said in a statement released by the Bucs, “and when he and Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice and Mike Alstott and all those guys won the Super Bowl, I was pretty pumped.
“Hopefully we can do that again.”
Dietrich-Smith became the seventh free agent to sign with Tampa Bay from another team this year.
“I saw the Buccaneers organization heading in the right direction and when I got to meet the coaching staff I was even more excited,” Dietrich-Smith said. “I really connected with (offensive line) coach George Warhop and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford.
“Then, meeting with Lovie Smith was the clincher. I always heard great things about him from other players around the league and I could sense all those things were true while talking to him. I am really excited to be joining the Buccaneers.”
His signing came at a time when the Bucs were starting to lose out on some targets.
Cornerback Charles Tillman, who visited the Bucs on Wednesday, signed a one-year, $3.5-million deal to stay with the Bears on Friday. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who had been scheduled to visit Tampa, signed a three-year, $11.25-million deal with the Vikings on Thursday.
The Bucs have so far doled out $140 million in free agency, including more than $45 million in guarantees, according to Spotrac.com. Tampa Bay has approximately $12 million available in cap space and plans to continue shopping.
Targets include former Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders and former Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher.
Sanders, who left Tampa and Jacksonville without signing a contract, visited Kansas City on Friday and is scheduled to spend Saturday with San Francisco. Fletcher visited the Bucs on Wednesday.