TAMPA — When he first sat down to evaluate the 2013 game tape of the team he inherited from Greg Schiano, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith could hardly believe what he saw of his offensive line.
A unit that was paid like one of the league's best, the Bucs' $25 million offensive line instead looked like one of the league's worst, prompting Smith to determine that changes would be made.
Perhaps the most significant of those changes came Saturday.
After several attempts to trade him failed to result in a deal, the Bucs released two-time Pro Bowl starting right guard and offensive team captain Davin Joseph, a move that immediately made him a free agent.
“Decisions like this are never easy when it comes to parting ways with players such as Davin,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. “We thank Davin for his contributions on and off the field during his eight years in Tampa Bay and wish him well in the future.
“Every decision we make during this time leading up to free agency is with the intention of improving our roster and building towards becoming a championship team once again.”
Joseph, 30, was slated to make $6 million in 2014, so his release leaves the Bucs with approximately $25 million worth of salary cap space as the free-agency signing period begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
“It's a new challenge for me, a new adventure,'' Joseph said. “I'm anxious to get out there and get with someone else and show them how I can play.''
Coming off a knee injury that ended his 2012 season during the exhibition portion of the schedule, Joseph struggled throughout the 2013 season to show the Bucs how he's truly capable of playing.
Also hampered by a staph infection he contracted during the offseason, Joseph never regained the leg power and agility necessary to win battles at the line of scrimmage and admittedly played well below expectations.
That's one reason Joseph wasn't caught off guard by his release. Though he said he was looking forward to the chance to play for Smith, he admitted the release didn't come as a great surprise.
“Their house, their rules; that's just how it is,'' said Joseph, who made $6 million in 2013. “I mean, nothing that happens in this business really surprises me. I just hope now that my time in free agency won't last long.''
Joseph joins a free-agent guard contingent that is strong at the top with players such as Denver's Zane Beadles, San Diego's Chad Rinehart and Chicago's Eben Britton, but lacks quality depth.
It is a group the Bucs are now almost certain to grab a player from as they remain uncertain about the status of starting left guard Carl Nicks, who continues to battle back from a foot injury and subsequent MRSA infection.
The Bucs might also look to add a new piece at left tackle, where 2011 Pro Bowler Donald Penn struggled through a difficult second half last year that possibly has put his future with the team in danger.
“Both guys (Penn and Joseph), will tell you they didn't play as well as they're capable of last year,'' Smith said recently.
“We didn't play well as an offensive line in general. We put a lot of money into our line and we should have better production from it.''
Joseph usually did produce at a high level for the Bucs. Their first-round pick (23rd overall) in the 2006 draft, he became a starter five games into his career and wound up starting 99 of the 100 games he played with Tampa Bay.
He was voted to the 2009 and 2012 Pro Bowl teams and was among the leaders in the Bucs' locker room, particularly on the offensive side where he was named captain for the 2013 season.
But injuries occasionally derailed him, costing him four games in 2008, five games in 2010 and all of the 2012 season, which he has yet to fully recover from.