FAB 4. It’s Time To Extend Licht’s Contract
There are two questions Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht simply won’t answer.
The first question, naturally, is, “So who are you taking with the first-round pick?”
Licht can’t answer that because right now even he doesn’t know. There is still weeks before the NFL Draft, more research to do, and Tampa Bay is largely at the mercy of the six teams drafting ahead of it.
The second question is, “Are you negotiating a contract extension or have you already been given a contract extension?”
When asked that question, as I did in person in a private meeting with Licht at the NFL Owners Meeting in Orlando, Fla. earlier this week, the G.M. smiled, let out short laugh that was either nervous or confident – I couldn’t tell – and said he prefers not to talk about his contract status and keep that private. He indicated he was happy with what he and his personnel staff had done this offseason in free agency and the contract extensions they did for wide receiver Mike Evans, Licht’s first-ever draft pick as a general manager, and tight end Cameron Brate, an overlooked gem of an undrafted free agent signing. Licht indicated he was comfortable where he was right now.
Does that mean that Licht, who had his fifth-year option picked up by the Glazers last summer, has already got his contract extended? Or does it mean that he is comfortable working in the final year of his contract because he’s confident in his resumé of personnel acquisition, and if this was his last year in Tampa Bay he knows he could land a general manager post elsewhere in the league?
I’m not sure, but it’s one or the other.
In an exclusive interview with Tampa Bay co-chairman Joel Glazer at the NFL Owners Meeting, which is the only time of the year Glazer speaks on the record with reporters, I tried to get an answer out of Bucs ownership, but to no avail.
“We don’t always talk about contract details with the public,” Glazer said. “It’s between ourselves and Jason, but I can say this – we’re very pleased with the job he’s doing. We really like the nucleus on this team. We’re at the point where we are re-signing some of our own guys that we drafted, which is a good sign. We’ve had a good offseason. We’re very excited about this offseason and the direction we are heading.”
Not satisfied with that answer, I pressed Glazer again.
“Historically we just don’t talk about their contracts,” Glazer said. “If something gets announced, it gets announced, or maybe it doesn’t get announced. What’s important here is that he knows how we feel and we feel good about the direction of the team.”
The team did announce a five-year contract extension with former general manager Bruce Allen along with Jon Gruden’s contract extension prior to the 2008 season. Perhaps they will do something with Licht if and when that extension occurs, or as Glazer said, maybe they won’t.
But what I can extrapolate from Glazers’ comments is that he is happy with the work that Licht is doing. Glazer could have said “pleased” instead of “excited” about the Bucs’ offseason, and Glazer could have held off on saying that he was “pleased” with the job Licht has done. I’ve always believed that praise and comments are optional in conversation, and I’ve come to believe that when someone is praised or complimented that it’s genuine.
Licht has proven to be a good evaluator of talent and has had success in the draft with the selections of Evans, quarterback Jameis Winston and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander – all of whom have made one Pro Bowl – in addition to guard Ali Marpet, left tackle Donovan Smith, tight end O.J. Howard, safety Justin Evans, wide receiver Chris Godwin and linebacker Kendell Beckwith. Tampa Bay’s general manager has also been responsible for finding some undrafted gems in Brate, wide receiver Adam Humphries and running back Peyton Barber.
Under his watch, the Bucs have also re-signed several key players in his four years leading the personnel department, including Evans, Brate, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David and right tackle Demar Dotson. Tampa Bay has also managed to keep director of football administration Mike Greenberg, who is the team’s salary cap wizard, around as an important piece of Tampa Bay’s front office.
To be fair, Licht has had some questionable moves too, including cutting left tackle Donald Penn in 2014 and replacing him with free agent bust Anthony Collins, signing underachieving defensive tackle Chris Baker in free agency last year and trading up to draft kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round in 2016 are a few of the personnel blunders that affect all NFL general managers.
Tampa Bay has a 22-42 (34.3 percent) record under the four years with Licht running the football side of the organization, which is far from ideal. But at the same time, a G.M. doesn’t decide when to kick a field goal or go for it instead of punting, or play a cornerback, who is best in press coverage, in off coverage too much, or which running back deserves more carries, or deciding to blitz two Pro Bowl linebackers more often, or to pick a strong safety or a left guard instead of rotating multiple players. Those are all coaching decisions to which Licht is not a part of.
Licht was hired by former Bucs head coach Lovie Smith and the Glazers, and fired Smith after two years, hiring current head coach Dirk Koetter in 2016. Koetter went 9-7 in his first season at the helm, but the Bucs had a disappointing 5-11 record last year in a season many expected to see Tampa Bay emerge as a playoff team, ending a postseason drought dating back to 2007.
Perhaps the Glazers are waiting until after the draft to decide whether or not to extend Licht. Perhaps they are waiting until after the 2018 season to make a decision. Or perhaps they have agreed to a one-year extension, or a long-term extension and don’t want to make that information public yet.
“I think it’s been positive,” Glazer said of the job Licht has done in acquiring personnel for the Bucs. “In any situation you’re going to have guys that didn’t work out. You’re going to have guys that do work out. There is also some learning curve, but I think if you look at his drafts, his drafts have been very successful. Free agency – he’d be the first to say there were some areas where he learned some lessons. Overall, I feel good about the team we have and I look forward to next season. I really like what we’ve done this offseason.”
Licht has re-signed cornerback Brent Grimes and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bucs have re-signed defensive end Will Clarke and safety Keith Tandy, and added kicker Chandler Catanzaro, center Beau Allen, defensive end Vinny Curry and defensive lineman Mitch Unrein along with center Ryan Jensen in free agency. Then Licht pulled off a blockbuster trade for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, a two-time Pro Bowler, who has had 15.5 sacks over the past two years.
I would love to report that Licht has had his contract extended, but in the absence of knowing the facts all I can do is call on the Glazers to do so if they already haven’t yet. I feel that Licht will carry this offseason momentum into April and deliver on a draft that will be closer to what he did last year and in 2015 than the pitfalls he experienced with the 2016 draft class. If the Glazers haven’t signed Licht to an extension yet they need to this summer.
The defensive line has the resources it needs to bounce back and get after the quarterback, and the secondary and the running game will be bolstered in the draft.
After watching the team struggle with drafts, free agency and the salary cap for over a decade under former general managers Allen and Mark Dominik, it’s clear the Glazers have recognized that this franchise has a good thing going with Licht. Now they need to keep Licht around.
The rest – in terms of wins and losses this year – is up to Koetter and the coaches.