Make-or-Break Year for GM Jason Licht

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After another underwhelming season in 2018, many people in Tampa Bay were calling not just for former HC Dirk Koetter to be fired, but for GM Jason Licht to be shown the door as well. Only the former actually happened, and now Licht will be entering into the third head coaching regime during his tenure with the Buccaneers. For an organization that has become accustomed to losing, it is not all too common for a GM to survive through so many head coaching changes in such a short period of time. Licht’s seat, though, has been warming up in recent years, and despite the hiring of HC Bruce Arians, which has given him a stay of execution, 2019 is very much a make-or-break year for Jason Licht.

With 5 off-seasons under his belt, Licht has drawn criticism for some of his draft picks and free agent acquisitions. Opponents of Licht summarize his draft success as ‘the guy who traded up to draft a kicker in the 2nd round who can’t kick in the NFL.’ Though that sort of remark is fair and not the best draft move by Licht, it may be a surprise to see his overall draft and free agent successes. I’ve broken down all 5 off-seasons for Licht.

Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Licht’s draft and free agency moves:

*Key: Bold italicized denotes team release / loss 

2014:

6 draft picks: WR Mike Evans, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, RB Charles Sims, G Kadeem Edwards, OT Kevin Pamphile

11 FA signings: QB Josh McCown, TE Brandon Myers, OT Anthony Collins, G/OT Oniel Cousins, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, DE Michael Johnson, DT Clinton McDonald, ILB Dane Fletcher, CB Alterraun Verner, CB Mike Jenkins, S Major Wright

Read more HERE.

2015:

5 draft picks: QB Jameis Winston, OT Donovan Smith, C/G Ali Marpet, LB Kwon Alexander, WR Kenny Bell

Read more HERE.

9 FA signings: TE Tim Wright, DE George Johnson, DT Henry Melton, OLB Bruce Carter, LB Larry Dean, CB Sterling Moore, S Chris Conte

Read more HERE.

2016:

5 draft picks: CB Vernon Hargreaves, DE Noah Spence, K Roberto Aguayo, CB Ryan Smith, OT Caleb Benenoch

6 FA signings: G J.R. Sweezy, DE Robert Ayers, LB Daryl Smith, CB Brent Grimes, CB Josh Robinson, P Bryan Anger

Read more HERE.

2017:

5 draft picks: TE O.J. Howard, S Justin Evans, WR Chris Godwin, LB Kendall Beckwith, RB Jeremy McNichols 

5 FA signing’s: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR DeSean Jackson, DT Chris Baker, S J.J. Wilcox, K Nick Folk

Read more HERE.

2018:

7 draft picks: NT Vita Vea, RB Ronald Jones, CB M.J. Stewart, CB Carlton Davis, G/OT Alex Cappa, S Jordan Whitehead, WR Justin Watson

5 FA/Trade signing’s: C Ryan Jensen, DE Vinny Curry, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Beau Allen, K Chandler Catanzaro

Read more HERE.

Percent of draft picks still on Buccaneers’ roster: 75%

Percent of FA/Trade additions still on the Buccaneers’ roster: 33%

(Does not include FA/draft players that are likely to be released in 2019. i.e. Brent Grimes and DeSean Jackson)

For all the heat Jason Licht has taken when it comes to his draft selections, he has drafted very well considering 75% of all his draft picks are still on the Bucs’ roster today, 43% of which were starters last season. Despite the casual bystander who only remembers Licht for his 2016 2nd-round draft selection blunder when he drafted FSU prospect Roberto Aguayo, he has actually drafted exceptionally well. Even if you factor in some attrition of previous draft classes in 2019, Licht has still drafted exceptionally well in terms of those retained on this past year’s roster.

An argument could be made that despite Licht’s ability to retain those he has drafted, he has missed on what some would consider obvious picks. Take for example the fan favorite Charger DB Derwin James, who the Bucs passed over in favor of DT Vita Vea. James had a banner rookie year, but Licht ended up drafting a DT that took a little while longer to come along in the NFL.

Even though Licht has had plenty of draft successes, free agency has not been as kind to him. Since 2014, only 33% of all his free agency picks are still on the roster today. This number doesn’t include the probable departure of CB Brent Grimes, WR DeSean Jackson, or backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, which would sink his retention number to 22%. Either way that is an abysmal number, and the 2014/2015 FA’s seasons were a big reason why. Even though in recent seasons he has brought in some nice pieces like Jason Pierre-Paul (via trade) and P Bryan Anger, Licht has still been plagued by bad free agent pickups during his time in Tampa.  In 2019, Licht should greatly reconsider his plan of attack in order to not make the same mistakes he has in previous years.

Without a doubt Jason Licht and his team can draft and draft very well. If Licht is to survive past 2019, though, he will have to nail 2019 free agency with limited cap space and retain some key players (like Kwon Alexander) entering contract negotiations. If he doesn’t have a successful free agency period, it will ultimately be his undoing.

What are your thoughts? Should Licht be retained past the 2019 season?

Player information sourced from WalterFootball.com.

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