FAB 4. Re-Signing Players Can Be Quite A Dilemma

One of the biggest fears of any general manager is letting a good player walk away. It’s hard enough to find good players in the draft and free agency, so when they leave it’s a real blow because not only did a team lose a strong asset, there is substantial risk is trying to find a replacement that is just as good if not better.

When it works out, it’s simply a given that the general manager should have re-signed that player. But when it doesn’t work it, the narrative becomes, “What were you thinking?”

Three years ago, Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin was the second-leading rusher in the league, earning his second Pro Bowl berth on the heels of rushing for 1,402 yards. The two previous years were filled with injuries and disappointment, as Martin didn’t even crack 500 yards in in 2013 or ’14.

Bucs RB Doug Martin - Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images
Bucs RB Doug Martin –
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

When Bucs general manager Jason Licht was faced with the prospect of re-signing Martin just days before he hit free agency in 2016 or risk losing the league’s second-leading rusher he knew he was in an impossible situation.

If he didn’t re-sign Martin, Licht would be crucified by Tampa Bay fans for letting him walk in free agency.

If he re-signed Martin and he didn’t live up to his contract, underperformed and got hurt again, Licht would also be crucified.

The only way Licht and the Bucs would come out of this dilemma on top is if Martin signed his five-year, $35.75 million and continued to be a 1,000-yard rusher. Unfortunately for the Bucs, that’s not what has happened.

Licht negotiated up until the last minute before free agency began to re-sign Martin. Given the running back’s injury history, there was no rush to get a deal done because with two really good years and two really bad years in the league there was a 50-50 chance that Martin would disappoint.

After rushing for a career-low 421 yards and three touchdowns on 144 yards (2.9 avg.) last year, Martin has just 379 yards and two touchdowns on 119 carries (3.2 avg.) this season. In the first year of his new contract, Martin injured his hamstring and then was suspended for drug usage. That caused him to miss the first three games of the 2017 campaign and he hasn’t been very effective since returning.

Martin missed most of the Atlanta game and last week’s Green Bay contest with a concussion, which will further limit his production this year. I’ve said before that Martin is a “feast or famine” type running back. But with four seasons with less than 500 yards rushing and only two years of 1,400 yards rushing, Martin has become way more “famine” than “feast.”

In hindsight, re-signing Martin was a big mistake – a mistake the Bucs need to move on from in 2018. But at the time in 2016, re-signing Martin made all the sense in the world given how well he performed in Tampa Bay’s fifth-ranked offense in 2015.

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

Licht faced a similar dilemma this past offseason with defensive end Will Gholston. A big, 6-foot-6, 285-pound run-stuffer, Gholston was a key cog in Tampa Bay’s defense last year. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith likes big defensive linemen and Gholston certainly fit the bill.

After recording a career-high 67 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble in 2015, Gholston notched 49 tackles, three more sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in his contract year last season. When Gholston missed the last two games of the year the Bucs’ run defense suffered, especially in a loss at New Orleans, which caused Tampa Bay to miss the playoffs.

The Bucs knew just how important he was to their defense, so Gholston was re-signed to a five-year, $27.5 million contract extension. Licht knew that the team was thin at defensive end to begin with, and the 26-year old Gholston had demonstrated that he was a young, ascending player that fit well in Smith’s defense.

Of course some fans, especially in hindsight, wanted Calais Campbell instead. But the Bucs had a hard time swallowing the fact that the 31-year old Campbell was worth the four-year, $60 million contract he received from Jacksonville that included a $6 million signing bonus and $30 million in guaranteed money.

No one – not even the Jaguars – expected Campbell to produce a career-high 12.5 sacks through the first 12 games this season.

Instead, Gholston has been disappointing this season. He’s got just 27 tackles on the year, zero sacks and was beaten badly three times on zone-read runs by quarterback Brett Hundley last Sunday in the overtime loss at Green Bay.

Most general managers would rather re-sign their own productive players rather than sign free agents from other teams. What’s the old saying? The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t?

But it presents a dilemma for general managers like Licht because even re-signing players is not a sure thing. Licht has had success re-signing the likes of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David and offensive tackle Demar Dotson.

Bucs DE Will Gholston - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs DE Will Gholston – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

But getting burned from the likes of Martin and Gholston after re-signing them to big-money contracts might make Licht even more hesitant to re-sign some Tampa Bay’s impending free agents next year, such as cornerback Brent Grimes, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, guards Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith and safeties T.J. Ward and Keith Tandy.

This isn’t just about Licht. This applies to every other NFL general manager and the guessing game that occurs when you had a player a big-money contract. What happens to the player’s desire? Does complacency set in? Do they become comfortable with their haul, or do they feel even more pressure to live up to their big contract and earn every penny?

The one lesson that every GM finds out the hard way when it comes to re-signing some free agents is that past performance does not always indicate future results. Sometimes it turns out that re-signing a player to even more money is more of a mistake than letting him go.

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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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GoldsonAges
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GoldsonAges

Regardless of the teams issues this year I would keep koetter over McDaniels, Patricia, or Gruden. Gruden’s defense GAVE UP ON HIM during his last 5 years here. Do we not remember that awful stretch? McDaniels does not have the respect of the players. Did you see Brady ripping into him on the sidelines in the last game. And why is Patricia going to be a good coach? Simply because he is under a great coach? Rubbish. I am hoping the Glazers stay the course with Koetter and clean out the awful scouting department. If Peyton Manning is ready to… Read more »

Devasher
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Devasher

Bill Parcells once said “You are what your record says you are.” And that’s true in most cases, except when you are Jason Licht and Pewter Report is covering you. In that case, you may be the GM of the best 4-8 team in professional football, although the 4-8 Houston Texans may disagree and have a better -13 pt differential to Tampa’s -45. The fact that Tampa just lost to a Brett Hundley led Packers team and Licht’s teams have won 35% of their games is really only secondary to the completely subjective “upgraded talent” department that Scott has made… Read more »

Ken Grant
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Ken Grant

The defense didn’t give up on Gruden. Things fell apart when everyone found out Monte was likely leaving.

Also, the scouting department is fine. You are still bitter than you were completely wrong on Josh Evans. Get over it.

Devasher
Member
Devasher

I’m sorry I don’t know who Josh Evans is… are you talking about Justin Evans? And what a great impact Justin Evans has made for the fortunes of this franchise! Why if Josh…I mean Justin Evans wasn’t here, the Bucs might not have beaten the New Englan….I mean, that pick against Green Bay was the difference in the ballgame…oh wait, you mean this team is 4-9 and headed for it’s 4th straight non-playoff season under Licht because his greatest moves in the past two years are drafting a safety, a strongside linebacker and a TE? You mean those positions don’t… Read more »

spartan
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spartan

I know you said you are not advocating for Koetters firing Scott, but you certainly are writing like he is a dead man walking.

TBAtlas
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TBAtlas

A-effiing-men brother. At this point, I’m not even mad anymore that PR is shilling for Koetter to get fired and Gruden to replace him because the PR’s interview of Gruden got 5 minutes in the national spotlight. We’re not stupid.

And yes, until there’s something actually solid, it’s just shilling.

Here’s the bottom line when it comes to managing a franchise:

Instant
Sustainable
Success

Pick two.

Ja'crispy
Member
Ja'crispy

my favorite thing Belicheck said in that video…”Good players cant overcome bad coaching. Its impossible.” So true.

MudManVA
Member
MudManVA

Nice fab 5 again. Grading the whole Licht should be given a contract extension. If you are the GM your are going to have hits & misses in regards to drafting & signing personnel. We can rehash all his hits & misses, but his wins are far greater than his misses. The roster has gotten better since he arrived. Any BUC fan not drinking the Kool-aide could see that the BUCS were 2-3 more drafts away (after last year) from being a “real” playoff team. Both lines need to be improved, and our young players need to grow up/mature. (I… Read more »

martinii
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martinii

Good articles Scott, not exactly what I thought I would be reading at this point in the season. Definitely thought we would be discussing play-offs. let me say at this point as unpopular as it may seem, I am not ready for a coaching change. It has become a bi-annual ritual that over the last several years has produced little to no improvement in the number of Wins. In fact 2016 9-7 was a breath of fresh air and fed into the heightened expectations of 2017. I doubt if we could get a quality coach or coordinator with out reputation.… Read more »

matador
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matador

I’m not saying Gruden is the savior but if you still think he won with Dungy’s team you are clearly an idiot. Please please PLEASE recount for us position by position how you came to that conclusion. We’ve become a nation of idiots forming opinions based on feelings instead of facts. Do us the favor of making a fact based argument. Thanks in advance

a-bomb
Member
a-bomb

The premise here about coaches that adjust is spot on. There is little evidence to indicate that Smith and/or Koetter are capable of making these kind of adjustments. I do take some issue with the implication that Licht is somehow insulated because he has “improved the talent.” If you want to see how a “real” GM runs a team look no further than Steve Yzerman. Not only are the Lightning loaded with talent now, but they also have a very well stocked farm system. Yzerman and his staff just make decisions that always seem to work out- I don’t think… Read more »

DonkeyHunter
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DonkeyHunter

I’m glad how SR claims to not have an agenda, and then proceeds to report about how he spoke with players in the locker room about their feelings and thoughts on Gruden.

Koetter and Licht should’ve kicked his ass out of there on the spot.

Naplesfan
Member
Naplesfan

Good fab 5, Scott. In game coaching is an absolute must, and does separate the bad from the good from the great. But good in game coaching, including adjustments, is also a product of preparation and contingency planning, as Bill Belichick explains from his quotes. If you haven’t already thought out not only Plan A but also Plan B and Plan C and Plan D in advance, then you just become clueless on the field, just pulling out of your hindquarters whatever comes to mind (like Coach Smith’s incredible 14 different defenses for JJ!!!). Definitely both McDaniels and Patricia ought… Read more »

matador
Member
matador

It has been Bust Central under Licht. He must go. If the Glazer boys keep him it will just prove they’re clueless. How many of his picks have been unqualified successes? Very few is the objective answer. Feel free to list them out to prove me wrong, I’m open to information based arguments.

reymatos
Member
reymatos

I fully agreed with you that matador…Jason Light and Mike smith need to GO..!!! …I’m starting the fan push for Derrick Brooks to become our next GM…It’s time…he’s done a great job as the Storm GM and free agents will come here to play and not steal the Bucs money because we over pay for them such as (Lazy Chris Baker). They know a DB a (Hall-of-farmer) is watching…!! Koetter should get another year unless Derrick thinks otherwise..!! Mike Smith should be the first one out the door..!! He system doesn’t work…!!

drdneast
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drdneast

So we are going to fire Koetter because the Mike Smith defense has been rancid pretty much all year. Scott, you make abut as much sense as some of the people who post out here. Also, weren’t you one of the people who were relieved last year when Smith wasn’t hired away.an OL Where was your foresight last year. Give me a break. I’m all for firing Smith, but the core reason for this defenses ineptness is because our defensive line is old, slow and over the hill. When I was calling for a defensive lineman in last year, you… Read more »

Buc 1976
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Buc 1976

The D line is old. I have wondered how far VH3 Would have fallen if the Bucs had taken Rankins instead. As for Spence undersized for a Dlineman. As for our GM the best draft was when Jon Robinson was here pluses we had 1st or 2nd pick every RD. The FA signings are bad except for Grimes and he kind of fell in our laps.

surferdudes
Member

Well drd, if you’re going to blame Smith’s defense, shouldn’t you blame the man who wanted to hire him? That would be Koetter. Scott you say Licht signed Martin, and others for fear of seeing them move on, having success, and being criticized for not resigning them. Belichick does not have that fear, part of the reason for his success. He’s let popular players walk, traded others considered by some vital, yet he keeps winning with what he has. Credit has been given for resigning McCoy, and David. I saw David miss a tackle that would’ve prevented that T.D. Sunday,… Read more »

Horse
Member
Horse

Good Article Scott; I just don’t have a clue what we should do after this season is over. The things you have pointed out with the Patriots ares valid. After the season is over I hope the Glazers give Licht and Koetter a pass for one more year if they are willing to make some changes and one of them is to let Mike Smith go and Koetter gives up play calling and be just the Head Coach. I’m not a Gruden fan because I felt part of Gruden problems with the past Bucs as Head Coach and player caller… Read more »

e
Member
e

So, for how many years has PR talked up the new coach in the first year and then proceeded to tear him down the next? I don’t believe that any coach is going to be successful with the franchise under such immense pressure. Ron Riviera won 6 games his first year and then 7 the next? Would he have survived the PR assault? Belichick went 6, 7 & 7 wins his first three years in Cleveland… then, 5 wins in NE before he latched on to Brady. Tomlin did have success, but with an established team & franchise QB right… Read more »

reymatos
Member
reymatos

We just need a GM with an eye for Football talent….Derrick Brooks needs to be the BUCS next GM..!!

cgmaster27
Member
cgmaster27

well when it comes to what we have here, this offseason will be full of some tough choices. One thing is for certain though is that Mike Smith needs to go, end of story. HIs defense has been awful outside of a 5 game stretch last year. Hope the Giants take him. When looking at whether we should keep Koetter and LIcht, if I were the Glazers I would give Koetter another year ONL:Y under certain circumstances. 1, you need to get an offensive coordinator to call plays, and 2 fire you buddy Mike Smith. Then and only then do… Read more »

inspecto
Member
inspecto

Trading up to draft that kicker in the 2md is very damning to Light.If he was 50/50 that would push under.

seat26
Member
seat26

I am still of the opinion that our expectations were unrealistic for this year. we won 9 games last year and maybe we were not as good as other 9 and 7 teams. We still had several positions that we were weak at and we didn’t address them in the Draft. And we have been injured in positions this year that we were strong in making us and all around mediocre team. I love Howard, but we already had one of the best TE’s in football and I really think that first pick was a waste strategically. The Coaching has… Read more »

buccaneerNW
Member
buccaneerNW

The Gruden propaganda network is at it again. PR pumps Gruden like FuxNuze pumps Trump.

Dbuc63
Member
Dbuc63

bucNW, Still suffering from TDS. (Trump Derange syndrome) GET OVER IT

buccaneerNW
Member
buccaneerNW

Not as long as there’s a fascist traitor in the White House. Not gonna get over it. You must be one of the gullible morons who voted for the ignoramus.

buccaneerNW
Member
buccaneerNW

Also, if you wanna talk about derangement, what’s more deranged than a president and a party that still spend time deflecting away from issues to bring up old conspiracy theories about HRC which have been thoroughly debunked. Oh I’m sorry, Russia must be fake news, despite the ongoing investigation and obvious lies and coverups from virtually everyone we’ve heard of in the campaign. But you might not have heard about any of that because you’re probably putting on a tinfoil hat and filling your brain with FuxNuze and Breitbart. Delusional morons.

Pit of misery
Member
Pit of misery

all I know is something has to change! The free agents are terrible the play-calling is terrible and the defense stinks

seat26
Member
seat26

I agree. I am not sure that it is coaching but maybe you are right. I think we got unlucky with Baker. He is past his prime. Ayers is good but too old as well. Jackson is just not being used enough in my opinion.
Some of this is Injury related. But I think if we can have one or two more drafts as good as this last one but in positions that we need addressing, we can be a lot better. One guy on the Defensive line who can play at an above average level is not enough.

reymatos
Member
reymatos

Mike Smith & Jason Light need to go….Derrick Brooks needs to be our next GM..

drdneast
Member
drdneast

surferdude, you make some valid points about McCoy and David and I’m not against trading either of them if the price is right. Unfortunately at the moment, McCoy is about our only serviceable defensive lineman. I also don’t think anyone is going to offer us a No.1 pick for either one of them. This team really needs to revamp it’s defensive line and has needed to for the last four years. Every defensive lineman that Dominick drafted proved to be a bust except for William Gholston and he is no world beater. They better seek an A rated DL in… Read more »

seat26
Member
seat26

I took a lot of heat for wanting to trade McCoy last year, because the hype on him was so great I believed we could have gotten multiple picks. If we had taken a DE, Corner and Running back early, who knows how different this year might have looked? But then without McCoy this year, we might have lost every single game. It’s a tough position to be in when the talent level is so strong at Linebacker and so suspect on the Defensive line.

deeznuts
Member
deeznuts

At this point, it’s time for amageddon. Cut everyone who isn’t Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, Gerald McCoy, Mike Evans, DJax, Ali Marpet, Demar Dotson, Brate, OJ Howard, or Jameis Winston.

Maybe we can keep a few guys like Justin Evans (even though his INT’s dont make up for his blown coverages), Ryan Smith, Kendall Beckwith, and Chris Godwin.

The offensive line, head coaching, and pass defense/rush are atrocious. Gruden wouldnt touch the current roster with a 50-foot pole.

Bucs Capacitor
Member
Bucs Capacitor

Wait, so the main knock on McDaniels is that once things got tough and they started, he didn’t know how to handle his players? Given our recent history, do you REALLY think that that’s a quality we need in a head coach in Tampa? You can tell me all you want about how he’s had time to learn under Belicheck…but he had time to learn under him BEFORE Denver. I’m sorry, but while McDaniels is a great playcaller, all we can do is hope that he’s learned from his mistakes. The only true proof we have in his head coaching… Read more »

Bucs Capacitor
Member
Bucs Capacitor

* started losing

I need to proof read before posting.

Buc76
Member
Buc76

Scott knew the season was over after the Arizona game and that was Correct. Fire Koetter and Licht

seat26
Member
seat26

Regime changes every two years are not helping us.

Buc-in-Philly Fan
Member
Buc-in-Philly Fan

It seems nothing helps our Team. Maybe we really are cursed. I am so tired of sucking….