During Jason Licht’s tenure in Tampa Bay as general manager, he has done a good job of being controversial. Licht’s boom-or-bust decision making has landed him in and out of favor with many Tampa Bay fans throughout his near decade as the team’s head decision maker.
Among some of Jason Licht’s headline-grabbing successes:
Choosing wide receiver Mike Evans in the first round of the 2014 draft - With his first draft pick as Tampa’s general manager, Licht selected Evans over Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin, and even Odell Beckham Jr. Bucs fans don’t need to be told about how Evans has since gone on to be the franchise’s best offensive player. He has simply spent his career stamping his name all over team record books since draft day in 2014.
The decision to bring in Bruce Arians before the 2019 season- 2019 may seem like a long time ago for Bucs fans of 2023, but going into 2019 the Buccaneers were in a difficult position. They needed to navigate where to go at the most important position on their football team, quarterback. Many believed, at that time, that theirs was already on the roster. Jameis Winston had his struggles but was still believed to be able to bring enough upside that he could be the face of the franchise. Bringing Bruce Arians on board, a proven quarterback know-it-all, who knew what it was supposed to look like empowered the Buccaneers to move on from Winston and his inconsistencies. Even after Winston’s 30 interception season in 2019, the decision was not black and white. People bolstered their pro-Winston arguments with stats of other passers in their debut seasons with Bruce Arians as their coach. It was the blunt nature of Arians which ultimately ushered Winston out of Tampa. That ushering, in turn, led the Buccaneers to Tom Brady, as big a franchise altering acquisition as there has ever been.
Of course, Jason Licht has also experienced a ‘whoops’ moment or two since he’s been in the Bucs front office:
The darkest stain, which he may never wash off his legacy, is the drafting of Roberto Aguayo. For so many reasons this is the most meme-worthy move on Licht’s resumé in Tampa. Not only was the decision to draft a kicker in the second round controversial but then Aguayo went on to convert just 71 percent of his kicks as a Buccaneer. A shockingly low number for any kicker, let alone one as highly touted as Aguayo was out of college. A short-lived NFL career for Aguayo and a sure-fire miss by Jason Licht.
It is no small feat, even though at times it is overshadowed, that Jason Licht has accomplished the ultimate goal in Tampa Bay. It may have taken him some time, but he was able to steer the organization towards calmer seas and stabilize what had been a sinking ship. In 2020, Licht stood on stage as a Super Bowl post-game celebration commenced, honoring his football team. The GM was somewhat of a forgotten component of the team’s success because Tom Brady’s celebrity shine tends to engulf those around him. From the 2020 offseason through the end of the 2022 season, anytime the Buccaneers signed a player, whether it was a small subtle addition to the roster, or a major re-signing of a key cog, credit was placed at the feet of Tom Brady.
—The taglines of Tampa Bay signings we’ve all become familiar with over the last three seasons—
“He’s coming here to play with Brady.”
“Brady recruited him to Tampa so they can win a Super Bowl.”
“He’s never won a championship, so he’s coming to Tampa to try and do it with Tom.”
Jason Licht very quietly accepted his role. He was the man behind the scenes, pulling the strings, not one of the actors on stage. The 2023 offseason represents the first time since 2020 that Jason Licht is responsible for his own actions. Both the players he brings in and the decisions he makes, will fall squarely upon his shoulders. Adding to the increased pressure of losing the buffer of Tom Brady, Licht entered the offseason arguably deeper in the hole than any other GM in the National Football League as Tampa Bay was further over the cap than any other team just a few weeks ago. The Bucs weren’t handed an easy outlook, operating with negative cap space and a long list of free agents the prognosis was bleak. Jason Licht, as he has quite a few times in Tampa, stepped up to the plate.
The Buccaneers have found ways to re-sign their main free agents—
Jamel Dean was regarded by most as the top, or one of the top, free agent cornerbacks on the market this offseason. Surely a team with more cap space than the Buccaneers would come and lure him out of Tampa. No, Jamel Dean will once again be suiting up for the red and pewter next season, as he is now on his second contract with the team.
Lavonte David is the team’s oldest, most veteran Buc, and one of the greatest to ever lace ‘em up in Raymond James Stadium. At the Combine, Jason Licht stepped to the podium and said fairly unencouraging things about the current state of contract negotiations between David and the team. Speculation swirled that Lavonte David would be a cap causality sent out the door as the Buccaneers transitioned into a rebuilding era, or that the 33-year-old linebacker would want to play on a team that was positioned to make a run at a championship. If losing Lavonte David came down to a penny-pinching move by the Buccaneers’ front office, then that departure would’ve gone down as another dark stain on the legacy of Jason Licht.
Instead, while the 2023 season may look very different for the Buccaneers, number 54 will still be on the field as the team’s starting middle linebacker. Licht and the Buccaneers even found a way to secure a solid depth piece that has consistently been in good favor with the organization with the resigning of Anthony Nelson.
The 2023 Tampa Bay Buccaneers may not go into the season with the same expectations as the 2020, 2021, or 2022 Bucs did but that does not mean that the team’s offseason hasn’t been impressive, and it’s safe to say that these players are not staying in Tampa Bay to play with Tom Brady.