Can Licht keep the Bucs’ gang together?

by Gary Shelton on February 22, 2021

in general

David is still important for Bucs./TAMPA BAY BUCS

Monday, 4 a.m.

Time was, we all wanted to be the quarterback. We would draw our plays in the dirt, and we would throw the ball here and there, and we would guide our offense. We were Johnny Unitas with his high tops, Joe Namath with is swagger, Joe Montana with his cool. We were the guy with the ball, and all was right with he world.

Later, we wanted to be the coach. We wanted to call the plays and yell at the refs. We wanted to throw long on third-and-one, and we wanted to go for it near the goal. We were Vince Lombardi behind the glasses, Don Shula with his lantern jaw or Bill Belichick with his sour outlook. We were the guy in charge, and as far as the world, well, we ruled it.

These days, we want to be the general manager. We want to make a trade and run a draft. We want to shape a roster and negotiate a contract. We want to be the smart guy behind the scenes, like Bill Polian, or Bobby Beathard or Jason Licht. We see the world, and we want to re-negotiate a new deal.

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Call it the evolution of a dream. With football, and with February, that's the way things work. A good general manager can win games in the off-season. At least, he can put the Bucs in position to do so.

That's what Licht did last off-season. He set up the Bus for their late-season Super Bowl run. For a guy whose job doesn't include sweating, Licht had a heck of a year. And now? He has to do it again.

How much you loved the Bucs in 2020 was because of Licht, and how much you will love them in 2021 is because of him, too.

Oh, Licht has assistants. You can't look anywhere on the internet these days without 50 million experts willing to advise Licht on which of his free agents to keep. And the most import thing here is to understand that "all of the above" is not an acceptable answer. Winning has its price, and there isn't a free agent on the team who won't have his palm out. It's not greed; it's the way the game is played.

You guys know how I feel. The decision to retain a free agent depends on his production, his health, his salary, his age and his position. Keep in mind that coach Bruce Arians has talked about keeping "five or six" of his team's eight key free agents. In other words, he expects a couple to go.

So here we go again. I'd keep -- in order -- Chris Godwin, Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David, Rob Gronkowski, Ndamukong Suh, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette and Ryan Succop. Forgive me if I'm repeating myself, but these are important decisions.

Oh, they aren't the only important decisions. Do you keep Cameron Brate? That has to be considered. He's making a nice hunk of change for a backup. Do you try to squeeze in an outside free agent (certainly not yet, not unless one of the great eight departs.

Here's my reasoning. Again.

1). Godwin. Chris Godwin may be the most complete receiver on the team and, yes, I'm a huge fan of Mike Evans, too. But Godwin may be the most coveted player on this list. Sure, you can find receivers elsewhere who are cheaper, but you don't let your best players walk. Period.

2). Barrett. Do you remember Gaines Adams and Stylez White and all the other would-be defensive ends who have played for the Bucs? No, it wasn't a great year for Barrett (it was a great post-season), but pass rusher is one of the premier positions in the league. Don't let him get away.

3). David. Inside linebacker isn't one of the crucial positions for a lot of teams, but David and White make it one for the Bucs. I know David will want his last big contract, but he's an important player in this locker room.

4.) Gronkowski. He's not the dynamic receiver he was, but he's a good guy to have in your huddle He's a fierce blocker and he plays big in the big moments. Tom Brady will want him back, which says a lot.

5.) Suh. Suh had talked about retirement a year ago, but now he says he wants to keep playing. He might price himself off of this roster, however. There are more important players to sign, but he's a big piece.

6). Brown. Antonio Brown was more important to the Bucs than I thought he'd be. But if Brown wants a bigger contract, one would probably be waiting for him elsewhere despite his past. There is an argument that this is the safest spot for Brown to be, but being reasonable isn't a big part of Brown's history.

7.) Fournette. Fournette may ride his post-season to a nice contract with another team, but there aren't as many starting spots out there as you might imagine. Still, it only takes one team. My gut feeling is that Fournette leaves. Bucs' fans should wish him well.

8) Succop. I can hear you now as you doubt my sanity. Yes, I know that Succop was solid, and I know about the team's history with kickers. But there are a lot of good kickers out there. I wouldn't break the bank for this one.

Don't underestimate the importance of Licht over the next few weeks. Sure, he has a lousy draft position (earned), and yes, he doesn't have as much money as he'd like to spread around. But that's about success, too.

It was Licht, after all, who gathered this roster together.

It is Licht who now must try to keep it.

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