Jason Licht plans to win now, and do so building through the draft. That's the main takeaway from his first press conference as the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"Our philosophy will be to build through the draft. That's where we'll get our stars. We will supplement our roster through free agency. We're going to look for value, we're going to spend wisely. The better teams in the NFL that compete year after year are the teams that draft the best."
Building through the draft is what every team in the NFL does. It's impossible to remain financially healthy as a team while building through free agency. It's simply too expensive. That doesn't mean you can't supplement your roster through free agency, but when it becomes your core philosophy you have issues.
Licht stressed the word value in an earlier interview at Buccaneers.com as well. The past few years have seen the Bucs eschew value, perhaps because Mark Dominik felt an urgency to win rapidly to save his job. Spending big money on players like Vincent Jackson, Darrelle Revis, Carl Nicks, Eric Wright and Dashon Goldson has led to mixed results.
That said, this is not a rebuilding situation. Licht on several occasions stressed that they would be successful this year, and the familiar comparison to the Kansas City Chiefs was made -- as well as a less common comparison to the Arizona Cardinals, which is where Licht worked the past few years.
Finding the right fit
Licht's emphasis on value in free agency also likely means that the Buccaneers will stay away from the premium free agents in the NFL going forward. That's the New England way, after all: try to find bargains that are good fits for your scheme, rather than trying to collect the best available players. In fact, that's pretty much literally what Licht told the media.
"We're not talent collectors, we're looking for good fits," Licht said. "It's not about signing the best players, it's about signing the right players for your team."
Licht named Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson and Doug Martin as some of the key players to build around, but was less clear on Mike Glennon. When asked about the quarterback he praised his accuracy and surprising athleticism, but stopped short of committing to him. "We're going to put competition in place on every level of this football team, but we see a bright future for Mike Glennon."
Sustaining championship success
"I could become a GM for a team with strong ownership," Licht said. "With a strong foundation of players and, frankly, with people that want to win."
As every new general manager says: the goal is to win not just one Super Bowl, but win multiple Super Bowls. Building a quality team that can sustain success over multiple season is always the goal.
"Our vision is to win a championship. Not just win a championship, but to sustain that championship success year in and year out."
That's easier said than done, though, and one of the biggest issues will be sustaining that success whilst m maintaining a healthy salary cap situation -- something Licht doesn't have much experience with.
"Last year being Steve [Keim]'s first year as a general manager and promoting me two days later to be his vice president, I got a front-row seat to all the ups and downs of a first year GM's experience. The good, the bad and also, you can lump in that finance thing with the bad. It's not easy to just sign the best players. It really makes you realize that it's not about signing the best players, it's about signing the right players for your team."
Licht did tell the media later that he would not be handling the team's contract negotiations personally, according to Pewter Report. That likely means that Mike Greenberg, the team's contract and salary cap specialist, will remain on the team in his current role. Greenberg has been instrumental to creating a healthy salary cap despite heavy spending in recent years, mostly through innovative contract structures.
Head coach partnership
"The GM and the head coach have to work together. It's a partnership."
This is obvious, but it's absolutely crucial. The Bucs learned that when Jon Gruden and Rich McKay couldn't find a way to work together, while Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden as well as Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris had their clashes on personnel decisions, too. Jason Licht has some experience with situations like that, working in the Philadelphia Eagles' and New England Patriots' front offices when Andy Reid and Bill Belichick had final say over the roster.
"That union with the general manager and the head coach is one of the most important things that has to happen," Licht told Buccaneers.com. " It's a 'for better for worse' affair. You're going to be with him every step of the way, and with Lovie I felt like there was nothing that could be left unsaid. You could be yourself, and I think we share the same vision."
Licht stressed that this would not be a case of one person overruling someone else. The key word appears to be 'consensus'. Now I get to call this a polder model.
"We'll have arguments on players. I'm going to plead my case. I told Lovie during the interview process that If he doesn't like a player and I do, I'm going to be in his office twenty times trying to prove why my player that I like is the guy that we need.."
So what happens in case of conflict? Apparently, the player simply won't be selected.
"If we don't come to an agreement, the answer is easy: we won't take that player."
That sort of thing would be an issue if conflicts weren't worked out ahead of time, but that's not Licht's intention.
"On draft day we'll have all the answers figured out. We'll know who we'll be taking so there will be no arguments on draft day."
A new day in Tampa?
Overall, Licht's first press conference was somewhat insightful, but it also points to continuity in front office philosophy -- at least in words. Mark Dominik stressed building through the draft and finding value, as well as finding the right players for the team as well.
The issue with Dominik was, in part, that his drafts were not successful enough to build a core group of players, while he was less committed to actually building through the draft than his words suggested. That much was obvious from the moment the Bucs traded for Kellen Winslow, went after Albert Haynesworth and later signed several high-profile free agents with Greg Schiano as head coach.
For Licht to be successful, he'll have to draft well, and find the right fits. That's no shocking insight , but that doesn't make it any less true.
There is one crucial difference between Mark Dominik's first week on the job and Jason Licht's: this is not a rebuilding process. These Buccaneers are built to win now, with a strong group of core players and a quality coaching staff in place. Licht will have to find a way to do exactly that.