It’s crazy how much things can change in a year.
Jason Licht’s job wasn’t in jeopardy heading into 2020 or anything like that, but you could certainly say he still had a lot to prove. The Bucs finished 2019 with a losing record for the third straight year and former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston tossed 30 interceptions in one season to go along with 33 touchdowns and over 5,000 passing yards. The effectiveness of most of Licht’s decisions -personnel-wise- were still regarded as “unknown” or “up-in-the-air”.
But Licht broke through in 2020 when he signed Tom Brady, traded for Rob Gronkowski, and drafted Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr.. Those moves were catalysts to the 2020 Super Bowl run, however, the development of the 2018 and 2019 draft class played just as big a role in Tampa Bay’s success.
And guess what? Licht was responsible for those two classes. 2018 and 2019 produced names like Vita Vea, Carlton Davis III, Alex Cappa, Jordan Whitehead, Devin White, Jamel Dean, and Mike Edwards. All of those guys were starters at one point and were major contributors throughout the 2020 season.
Licht’s recent success has catapulted him to the top of the list when it comes to NFL GMs and recently, Gregg Rosenthal of the NFL Network listed him as the third-best GM in the league.
Licht’s tenure in Tampa makes the case for being patient. He survived Lovie Smith, Dirk Koetter, Jameis Winston and three double-digit-loss seasons to come out the other side a champion with the help of Tom Brady and Bruce Arians. Despite the flashy free-agent signings in recent years, Licht built the Bucs’ foundation through the draft, with Ali Marpet, Vita Vea, Chris Godwin, Devin White, Carlton Davis, Donovan Smith and Sean Murphy-Bunting all playing massive roles in the team’s title. These were good players before Brady arrived, and the stellar 2020 draft class (headlined by Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr.) helped put the team over the top.
Rosenthal’s reasoning is solid. Tampa Bay’s 2020 season was the perfect culmination of a ripe, young team ready to pounce, a veteran quarterback addition, and a couple of key draft picks. All cylinders fired and as a result, the Bucs are world champs.
As Rosenthal states in the article, the formula for this exercise was based solely off draft performance. So while it’s not surprising that Licht is No. 3, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were ranked a bit lower. Rosenthal includes all draft results dating back to 2015. If you’ve paid attention to Licht’s career with the Bucs, then you know that the 2016 and 2017 draft classes were abject failures outside of the Chris Godwin selection. He and O.J. Howard are the only players from both drafts who remain on the team.
There’s also the fact that Winston did not receive a second contract (not even the franchise tag) with the team. Regardless, the NFL is all about what you’ve done lately, and lately, Licht has been on absolute fire.
And to cap it all off, Licht is ranked higher than Brandon Beane. In case you’ve forgotten, Beane won the NFL’s Executive of the Year Award last year. There were many -including myself- who thought Licht should have won the award, but it went to Beane, instead.
Don’t forget what he’s done this offseason, either. Licht, Mike Greenberg, and Jacqueline Davidson have made history with their moves and have the Bucs right back in the driver’s seat for another Super Bowl run. At this moment, there’s little doubt that Licht is the front-runner for the top GM among his colleagues.
What a difference a year makes.