FAB 4. The Next Six Months Are Critical For Licht’s Future In Tampa Bay

Former Bucs general manager Bruce Allen once told me that the most helpless feeling for NFL GMs takes place in September once the season starts.

The majority of a general manager’s work is done in the offseason, and aside from some practice squad maneuvers and some injury replacements, it’s up to the coaching staff to deliver on the talent that has been acquired. Most GMs, including Allen, know that there aren’t many saviors on the street past September.

Bucs GM Jason Licht - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

I’m guessing that current Bucs general manager Jason Licht feels the same way. He’s made a couple of roster moves that have paid off in early September, landing defensive end Jacquies Smith off waivers in 2014, signing running back Jacquizz Rodgers in 2016 and bringing kicker Patrick Murray back in October of last year. But for the most part, Licht’s job is done by the time training camp ends.

Last year, Licht’s calculated risk of hoping for the healthy return of speedy pass rushers Smith and Noah Spence backfired as Smith never fully recovered following an ACL injury that cost him the 2016 season and Spence reinjured his surgically-repaired shoulder in the second game of the season and was put on injured reserve shortly thereafter. Licht also expected to squeeze one more year of good production out of 31-year old Robert Ayers, but he finished with only two sacks and missed four games due to injury. As a result, the Bucs finished dead last in sacks with 22 last year, including just 20 from their defensive line,

Licht also assumed that a healthy Doug Martin would return to his 2015 form after serving a three-game suspension, but that never happened. Martin’s stagnant play, coupled with a mediocre seasons from Rodgers and Charles Sims hampered the Bucs’ ground game until unheralded fourth-string runner Peyton Barber was able to take over late in the season. Tampa Bay’s ground game was grounded for much of the season and ranked in the bottom five teams in terms of yards per game, which was less than 100 yards.

On the heels of a very good 2017 draft haul that featured four starting-caliber players in tight end O.J. Howard, safety Justin Evans, wide receiver Chris Godwin and linebacker Kendell Beckwith, Licht has the chance to earn a new contract extension with a successful offseason in 2018. The Glazers picked up the option year in Licht’s contract over the summer for the 2018 season, but with one winning record in four years in Tampa Bay the time is now for the Bucs to turn the corner make the playoff push this year that was supposed to happen last year.

Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer and GM Jason Licht - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

But, I don’t necessarily think Licht’s tenure in Tampa Bay should be measured by the amount of wins and losses that take place during the 2018 campaign. Once the season starts it is Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith’s show. Licht won’t call a single play in the red zone, call a blitz on defense, call a timeout or decide to go for it on fourth down.

Yet what he can do is continue to stockpile talent in Tampa Bay, and that’s what a general manager’s job entails. Licht will rely on director of football administration Mike Greenberg to help sign some quality free agents and extend the contracts of some of the Bucs’ best players. Licht already locked up Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in his first season as general manager back in 2014, and also inked linebacker Lavonte David and right tackle Demar Dotson to contract extensions over the past couple of years.

If Licht is successful in extending the contracts of wide receivers Mike Evans and Adam Humphries, tight end Cameron Brate, middle linebacker Kwon Alexander and offensive linemen Ali Marpet and left tackle Donovan Smith, in addition re-signing cornerback Brent Grimes for one more year, that would be quite a coup and would bode well for his future in Tampa Bay. Throw in a couple of critical free agent signings at center or guard, at running back, in the secondary and along the defensive line, Licht will be in position to take the best player available in the draft rather than drafting for need.

Licht has had two wonderful draft classes in Tampa Bay in 2015 and ’17, and if he and director of college scouting Mike Biehl can once again find three or four more starters in this year’s draft he could be well on his way to earning a contract extension despite how well or how poorly the Bucs are coached on the field.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter, TE O.J. Howard, G.M. Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter, TE O.J. Howard, G.M. Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Of course Koetter was Licht’s first head-coaching hire and Licht will be evaluated on his performance, too. But, after years of suffering with awful drafts under Bruce Allen and mediocre draft classes by Mark Dominik, the Glazers should recognize that the caliber of team that Licht is building in Tampa Bay is different and better – despite it taking longer than most want it to. If Licht has success this offseason, the Glazers would be wise to lock him with a long-term contract extension before the 2019 offseason.

Now if Licht whiffs on some draft picks as he did with taking Roberto Aguayo in the second round in 2016, and strikes out in free agency with some awful veterans like left tackle Anthony Collins in 2014, linebacker Bruce Carter in 2015 and defensive tackle Chris Baker last year, then all bets are off and Licht will have to rely on Koetter’s coaching to win a bunch of games to extend his stay in Tampa Bay.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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FLBoyInDallas
2 years ago

Don’t worry Scott, we won’t forget which Bucs site was touting Vea first. By the way Jimmy Lake, defensive coordinator at Washington, is completely convinced that Vea will be selected before the Bucs at #7. Seems like his current rise up draft boards even before the combine takes place might support that conviction. I guess we’ll see how it plays out soon enough. One positive is if Vea does end up being drafted before the Bucs that means another elite prospect falls into the Bucs’ lap (just like last year with OJ Howard). There’s only so much room in those… Read more »

Brobear
2 years ago
Reply to  FLBoyInDallas

I think it sounds like his coach is just trying to talk up his former player. Vea may be rising slightly but him being taken before 7 is ludicrous. That only happens if a team (mistakenly) thinks he is Aaron Donald. Which he is not.

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MudManVA
2 years ago

The Glazers have checked all the boxes because they hire & fire coaches almost on pace with Cleveland. Since Dungy & Gruden I would say that the choices & patience has been a garbage pit. They blew the thing up & hired Morris, meh, then they brought in the A-hole, yuck, then Lovie, boy, and finally Koetter. Koetter is the best of of the bunch since Gruden and I as a fan call for some patience & stability. This team was years & drafts away when Lovie was hired, and are still I think 2 draft classes or 3 years… Read more »

Buc 1976
2 years ago

Aside from A kicker and VH3 Licht has drafted well.

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Brobear
2 years ago
Reply to  Buc 1976

VH3 was the best pick at that spot. It was the correct pick. But yeah grabbing Aguayo with Byard and Ngakoue still on the board is not great.

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Buc 1976
2 years ago
Reply to  Brobear

Sorry he WAS NOT.

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Ja'crispy
2 years ago

Thanks Scott for addressing the bucs pitch to free agents. I hate it when people say stuff like “why would anyone want to sign with Tampa?” theres a lot of reason why a free agent would want to sign with the bucs and you made some good points.

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Tampa 2.2
2 years ago

I hear you Scott but I just can’t see the Bucs drafting a DT that high with such low production. When you picking in the top 10 the selection has to be a game changer and Vita Vea is not that. A trade down is the only way you draft Vea. Losing team draft players based on how good they perform at the NFL Combine. I still can’t get over 9 1/2 sacks in 3 years, and you mocking him to the Bucs at 7. I say once again, I can’t wait until your next mock draft after getting intel… Read more »

Pete Wood
2 years ago

Could we please wait until Koetter has a few games under his belt in 2018 before we start talking about life after he leaves? Kind of a downbeat fab five in many ways. Strange spin on free agency. Why wouldn’t free agents want to sign with the Bucs? The Bucs have money and plenty of talent and a great draft position. With all the QBs going early the Bucs effectively have a top three draft pick. They were a half dozen scores and a kicker away from making the playoffs this year. They’re not the Browns. FAs realize the Bucs… Read more »

e
e
2 years ago

Nice work on the trailblazer piece, Scott. I look forward to Mac-commentary? As far as Koetter, the jury is still out; can he adapt? Can push a little harder in the offseason? Can he make more in-game changes? We’ll see.. As far as Meathead is concerned; I’ve always been a fan. All GMs have hits and misses, but when you look at the overall picture, he has restocked this team with talent in his tenure. I think that he’ll get extended. I still like a trade down scenario with the Bills and with their two first rounders, picking up Billy… Read more »

pinkstob
2 years ago

The Glazer sons have checked every box when it comes to hiring coaches except one: Get someone besides the Glazer sons to do the hiring. They are the common denominator in the lousy direction this team has taken since they started calling the shots in the mid 2000’s: From the HC to the GM to the team record to the ugly uniforms to the ticket prices. They need to either hire an outside firm to hire a President/CEO to run the team who can hire the GM and coach (making the Glazers silent owners) or sell the team. Rate this… Read more »

Horse
2 years ago
Reply to  pinkstob

Pinkstob, that just isn’t going to happen. It’s a family business and it will stay that way as long as they choose to make hundreds of millions off their investment.

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pinkstob
2 years ago
Reply to  Horse

With enough pressure from the fans and local media you can make change happen in the sports world, even all the way to ownership…if you apply the pressure for long enough. The owners are human, they can be embarrassed just like us…only for different reasons. Again, they can transfer power to a President/CEO without selling the team. If guys like SR and other local media condemn the Glazers consistently for the product they have produced we have a chance at seeing positive change. If the fans and local media defend them for trying we’ll never win another Super Bowl. Remember,… Read more »

Charlie
2 years ago

Love the bit about Licht, not enough credit for at least giving us talent and holding onto it than we’ve been able to in a long time. But are we so sure that Dirk was Licht’s guy all the way, wholeheartedly? I somehow get the feeling that he wasn’t. Either way he’s stuck with him and if he has another good offseason, he should be free to bring in a whole new coaching staff of his own.

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Cody
2 years ago
Reply to  Charlie

I totally agree with you Charlie. I think Licht has done an excellent job in the draft outside of Roberto Aguayo of course.

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rrsrq
2 years ago

Thanks for recognizing what the Bucs have done in their personnel with African Americans, great nugget with Parnell Dickinson, many people didn’t know he was the first black QB to start for the Bucs, I believe he is still part of the community there. They have also given opportunities to fornmer GaTech QB Joe Hamilton was on the roster. On note of correction I believe Jacksonville had Leftwich, David Garrard and Quin Gray on the roster all at once as well. Unfortunate for all three coaches unable to finish the job, but I believe Raheem is a better coach now… Read more »

macabee
2 years ago

OK, So E you want the black guy to comment on the Glazer’s trailblazing with black coaches and QBs. Lol. Actually I’m not a black guy, I’m simply sporting a full body freckle. Lol. For those of you new to PR, some time back I posted a photo (age 45) of me so everybody knew the nutcase that posted the long posts. Well now I’m really 68 and having a great time and hope all of you are too! Now my take on the subject. I think the Glazers were trying to get the best players/coaches that were available. They… Read more »

e
e
2 years ago
Reply to  macabee

Ha ha! I’m must say that you display impressive freckling skills. Maybe by not thinking of color, they were ahead? You know that there are a number of people that look forward to your posts; freckled or otherwise… 🙂

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scubog
2 years ago
Reply to  macabee

You sure are one handsome guy macabee. We’re both the same age and, from the looks of your photo, like me, you still have all of your hair and teeth. I love your sense of humor, your often sarcastic remarks, but most of all your in depth knowledge and perspective of all topics.

Me, I’m just a smart ass with a relatively quick wit. Wish you were my neighbor. Love to meet you someday.

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Dman
2 years ago

Amen. Mac, you’ve got a few years on me, but we’re not that far apart. My Take – If we just focus on what a coach or player can produce the rest should take care of itself. Ability is the best and should be the only qualification.

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surferdudes
2 years ago

For all of you who think Licht’s done a good job, don’t look at the many needs we still have, just look at our won loss record during his tenure.

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Honey Bear
2 years ago

A GM’s job is not to make “good” draft picks. A GM needs to build a winning roster. In four years, he has not done that. He has neglected the D line almost entirely, and the offensive line only has two solid draft picks and he has mostly struck out on free agents. Maybe Licht figures it out this off-season and drafts purely trench guys, and signs some more. But his four years here have been mostly hot garbage.

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matador
2 years ago

Scott’s argument for FAs coming to Tampa: Think what you want about his coaching job in 2017, Koetter became only the second head coach in Bucs history to win in his first season at the helm in Tampa Bay other than Gruden… Koetter is already winning the offseason by moving on from former defensive line coach Jay Hayes There are a host of very talented players on this team…There are teams with less talent in the league that can’t make their roster a selling point. Tampa Bay can. Who wouldn’t want to live in sunny Tampa, Fla. where it’s beach… Read more »

XpfcWintergreen
2 years ago

Well, Mac, I have a couple of years on you. You have a deeper football knowledge than I, however. I love your positive attitude and enthusiasm as a fan. I fell for some of the hype last year. But I still see the team as having made steady progress under the current regime. I still think the Bucs are set to become a playoff team. I see Winston as breaking through to elite status this year. I think he was a little young in years and a bit of a kid when he arrived. I look for him to really… Read more »

surferdudes
2 years ago

I’ll get serious for a moment. My last post, and Honey Bears were critical of Licht, and got half negative votes. Just proves people believe what they want to believe. Fake news I guess but what I said was fact. Licht’s won, loss record is bad, we have many needs in many areas, after being here four years our pass rush is worse then when he got here. If you consider that a success enjoy losing.

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Horse
2 years ago
Reply to  surferdudes

Surferdudes,. Agree with you. This has to be a make-or-break season for Licht .

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makski
2 years ago
Reply to  surferdudes

OK surferdudes, I’ll give you the fact that we haven’t won a lot lately and our pass rush is worse than when he got here, but… You have to take into account that we have had a VERY young QB over that span, hard to win a lot of games with a rookie/young QB in this league. Also, you have to admit that even though our pass rush is worse, our QB, WR’s, TE’s, and LB’s are all vastly improved over that span too. You can’t fix everything at once. Light has just concentrated on other positions. Rate this item:Thumb… Read more »

owlykat
2 years ago

Horse, Surferdudes, and Honeybear are right on the money. Licht is the CULPRIT folks. Just go back to his first statements of how he operates when he was hired. He believes in getting good value deals on free agents that are not the most expensive. On drafting he wants the BPA irregardless of needs as the best way to build teams. And what did the Glazer Boys do but open up the pocket book and he had Carte Blanche. Just look how many free agents he got to hire when he started. The problem was he was an awful chooser… Read more »

Charlie
2 years ago

Glazer boys are the problem, not Licht. Their dad would have given him better support so thus far. The kids meddle too much with coaching decisions they know nothing about. Like seriously Dirk doesn’t want to run the ball, period. He says he does, but doesn’t. The glazers picked him like they try to pick every coach not licht.

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REDDMAN
2 years ago

You have to compare Licht to other GM’s in the Division first then the league, not to Mark Dominic and his sorry drafting record. Licht has pissed a ton of money away on free agents and doesn’t seem to be able to get it fixed. Now it’s time to go shopping again and frankly I have zero confidence in him getting the right guys. If he doesn’t get at least 3 free agents to come in and start and play well, we need to find a new GM. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

owlykat
2 years ago

Licht also has to draft for our needs for the first time here, not BPA. Fix our trenches and get a top RB. Fix the backfield and Special Teams with Free Agents unless you can get the Gators Place Kicker in the Fifth or later in the draft.

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maarnold1775
2 years ago

They’re great at hiring, but quick to fire, since all those examples turned out to be a train wreaks in the end. Some did it to themselves, others weren’t given enough time. Nice article anyway.

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