FAB 4. The Bucs Who Benefit The Most From Licht’s Return
The Glazers brought back general manager Jason Licht for one more year to run the Bucs’ ship in 2019. Not only is that beneficial for Licht and the rest of Tampa Bay’s front office and scouting staff, it also benefits several of the players that Licht had a hand in bringing aboard over the years.
The Big Takeaway
Here is a list of a dozen Buccaneers whose fortunes in Tampa Bay could have been altered greatly in 2019 if Licht hadn’t been retained as the team’s general manager.
QB Jameis Winston
Winston was Licht’s first-round pick in 2015 and their fate in Tampa Bay beyond 2019 is intertwined. Winston did a good job of cutting down the turnovers after returning from his benching to throw 13 touchdowns with just four interceptions over the last five games, and if that trend continues the Bucs will put themselves in position to win more games in 2019. Licht has already declared that Winston will be the starter.
CB Vernon Hargreaves III
Hargreaves was Licht’s first-round pick in 2016 and hasn’t lived up to his draft billing. Hargreaves has seen the last two seasons end prematurely due to injury, including after Week 1 this past season. Hargreaves’ rookie contract is fully guaranteed, so it’s not like he would be cut, but Licht will give Hargreaves every chance to earn a roster spot this season. If he plays like he did last summer and stays healthy, Hargreaves will earn it.
DT Beau Allen
Allen got paid $5 million and produced just 20 tackles from the nose tackle position, and is set to earn $5 million more in 2019. That might seem a little rich for a backup nose tackle who lost his starting spot to Vita Vea, but if the Bucs part ways with Gerald McCoy this offseason due to salary cap reasons, Licht might want Allen around for his experience and leadership. Besides Vea has the talent to move to three technique and Allen could re-emerge as the starting nose tackle for 2019. Licht loves Allen’s toughness and attitude.
DE Noah Spence
Spence had a decent, injury-marred rookie year, but missed most of 2017 with a recurring shoulder injury that was finally fixed with surgery. Spence added 20 pounds of size this past year, but struggled during the preseason and rarely saw much playing time under new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner. Speedy edge rushers are hard to find, and Spence, a former second-round pick in 2016, will get the benefit of another training camp to try to turn the corner in his development.
LT Donovan Smith
Smith was a second-round pick by Licht in 2015 and the general manager believes he still hasn’t reached his full potential. While some fans want Smith gone in 2019 that’s not going to happen. Look for Smith to get the franchise tag for one year – or perhaps even a long-term contract extension from Licht. Whether or not that’s a wise move will be determined down the road, but Smith stays in Tampa Bay.
CB Ryan Smith
Smith didn’t receive as much playing time this year as he did last season, but he did play better in coverage while he made 38 tackles, tied his career high with five passes defensed, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and had his first career interception. Smith isn’t an ideal candidate to start, but he has developed well on defense as a reserve and is still a special teams star. Licht loves his toughness, speed and special teams ability.
K Cairo Santos
Santos ended the season strong, making six of his last seven field goals and all four of his extra point attempts, including perfect games against Atlanta and Baltimore down the stretch. Santos wound up making 9-of-12 field goals in seven games with Tampa Bay and deserves the chance to come back and compete for the starting job in 2019. Licht has been a big fan of Santos for years and would have signed him last year if he were healthy. Look for him to get a contract extension.
TE Cameron Brate
Brate had a down year with 30 catches for 289 yards, but still managed to catch six touchdowns. He played hurt all year, which affected his performance, and lost some targets to the more talented O.J. Howard, but Brate is one of Licht’s favorite finds. That’s helpful because Brate might be viewed as an expendable luxury at $7 million in the eyes of another general manager. Instead, Licht sees Brate’s value as one of Winston’s most trusted receivers and will likely keep him around in 2019.
WR Adam Humphries
Humphries was one of Licht’s undrafted free agent finds in 2015 and was pleased to see him produce a career year with 76 catches for 815 yards and five touchdowns. Licht won’t break the bank to keep the pending free agent in Tampa Bay, but give him a fair deal to remain Winston’s trusted slot receiver. Licht loves Humphries’ tenacity, professionalism and team-first attitude.
TE Alan Cross
Cross may be viewed as expendable by most coaches or general managers. He’s a backup H-back/fullback and special teamer. But Cross is ultra-competitive and adored by his teammates. Nicknamed “Honcho,” Cross is one of the “glue guys” in the locker room that will do whatever the team asks him to do. He’s a better athlete than you think, and Licht loves his toughness and versatility.
C Ryan Jensen
Jensen isn’t going anywhere due to the fact that his $10 million salary is guaranteed in 2019. But the reality is that despite being the highest-paid center in the league, Jensen didn’t play like, committing a team-high 11 penalties, including five holding calls and four personal fouls. That could be seen as a red flag and prompt other general managers to draft a center to challenge Jensen. But Licht sees the toughness and tenacity Jensen brings to the offensive line and loves it, yet he must demand better technique from him in 2019.
The FABulous Ending
Licht’s presence as general manager will play a big role in all of these players returning for training camp in 2019. Whether these Buccaneers remain in Tampa Bay past this year will depend on how they perform in the coming season, and if Licht is still at the helm in 2020.