Bucs Licht has heavy work ahead of him

by Gary Shelton on February 15, 2021

in general

Licht has a lot of work to do.

Monday, 4 a.m.

Tom Brady can go lay on a beach somewhere and rest his surgically repaired knee. Bruce Arians can do another round of interviews. Rob Gronkowski can go back to his home planet.

But for Jason Licht, the architect, it is time to go to work.

Yeah, yeah. I know. There is still confetti in his hair. Awards may still be headed his way. There is a lot of back-slapping to be done for a man who worked seven years to become an overnight success.

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Still, this is the time when general managers do their heavy lifting. There is a title to defend (something Tampa Bay has never been particularly good at). There are players to retain. There are free agents to consider. There is a draft to conduct.

And then it starts all over again.

Give Licht credit. After six football seasons as the Bucs' general manager, he had all of 38 wins. There were a lot of questions as to just why he was still employed.

Then came the 2020 season, and Licht could do no wrong. He traded in Jameis Winston for Tom Brady (which kind of worked out). He traded for Rob Gronkowski. He signed Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette. He drafted Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield. He re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett. He imported Ryan Succop.

And every move worked out. Every. One.

Now we can see if he can do it again.

Rich McKay couldn't. McKay, the former Bucs' general manager, and coach Jon Gruden splintered the following year and the Bucs fell to 7-9. Jay Feaster couldn't. The entire NHL shut down the year after theBolts won their first Stanley Cup, and when they got back together, they no longer had Nikolai Khabibulin. Andew Friedman couldn't. The year after the Rays went to the World Series. they fell to third place in their division.

It's hard to win it once. It's harder to repeat.

And so Licht has a chore to do. This year, he will draft last in the league. This year's salary cap space will disappear quickly. Free agents will want to come, but they'll act like the Bucs print their own money.

So, yeah, if you're Licht, you probably raised your eyebrows at the thought of J.J. Watt. But the first thing you have to do is try to keep as much of this team together as possible. That never happens completely (it's hard to see Shady McCoy coming back), but a team has to hang onto players of value.

For Licht, here's a working list.

  1. Chris Godwin, wide receiver: Arians says he's not going anywhere, which presumably means he could get a franchise tag. But Godwin is still short of his 24th birthday. A long-term deal would benefit both the player and the team.

2. Shaq Barrett, outside linebacker: Barrett didn't have the regular season he had a year ago, but if you count pressures instead of sacks, he was still an impact player, and he was at his best in the post-season. It was unnerving when Barrett suggested he was going to "break the bank." He'll get paid, but if he pushes for every nickel, he might find himself in Houston.

3. Lavonte David, inside linebacker: He didn't have the post-season that his running mate Devin White had, but David is still the heart and soul of this defense. He still has good football left in him.

4. Rob Gronkowski, tight end: Gronk won't want to go anywhere that buddy Tom Brady doesn't play. But he's fourth on this list. Keeping him might mean cutting Cameron Brate.

5. Leonard Fournette, running back: Fournette had a fine post-season, but he may be in line for a big payday. With Ronald Jones II on the roster, that payday might not come here.

6. Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle: Suh had considered retiring before last season. But he seemed to have fun last. year, and he might decide he has one more run in him.

7. Antonio Brown, wide receiver: Brown had a decent season that went a long way toward proving he could be a good soldier again. But does he leave for cash or hang onto the stability that comes with playing with Brady?

8. Ryan Succop, kicker: Succop had a fine season, and he's due a raise. But kickers don't want to price themselves out of the market, do they?

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