Jason Licht should win the GM of the year. This should not even be a matter of debate. This season, he has done his best job of putting the Bucs roster together, and this year has them in a position to play for the Super Bowl.
But Licht has the distinction of working in Tampa, a city that gets zero respect nationally. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Rays, Lightning, or the Bucs. If you play in Tampa, don’t expect any accolades.
Should Jason Licht not win the GM of the year award, it would not be a surprise.
Licht has transformed this Bucs team from a pretender to a team that now has a chance to win its first Super Bowl since the 2002 season.
Fly Over Sports Podcast: Episode 32 – Fly Over Sports Podcast
The beginning to a contending team
The first building block of this Super Bowl team was wide receiver Mike Evans, the first pick of the Jason Licht era in Tampa in 2014. Evans is a future Hall of Famer and will go down as the best receiver in Buccaneers history.
In 2015, Licht brought on two critical pieces of the offensive line, tackle Donavan Smith, and guard Ali Marpet. Marpet is now an All-Pro guard along the offensive line. Smith has struggled his first six years in Tampa but has played the best football of his career the last half of the season. Smith has saved his best for the playoffs having the two best games of his career against Washington and New Orleans.
2017 was a disappointing draft year for the Bucs, but that draft did net the Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin who is well on his way to becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL.
Where Licht has done his best work the last three years is in the draft.
Drafting reigns supreme
2018 saw the Bucs draft four starters. Defensive tackle Vita Vea, running back Ronald Jones, guard Alex Cappa, and safety Jordan Whitehead.
Cappa was drafted as a tackle and made the switch to guard in 2019 with the arrival of Bruce Arians as head coach. Cappa struggled in 2018 and made significant strides under Arians in 2019, and is now one of the top guards in the NFL.
Ronald Jones has improved every season and just missed 1,000 yards rushing this season. Jones still struggles with his pass-catching ability but has played a vital role in the Buc’s success this season.
Jordan Whitehead has become one of the NFL’s hardest-hitting safeties. Whitehead struggled the first half of the season but has improved the second half of the season, earning the starting safety spot opposite Antoine Winfield Jr.
Vita Vea’s 2020 season was cut short after playing in just five games due to a broken foot. Vea has come back and played a significant role in the NFC Championship win against the Packers.
In 2019, the Bucs added another critical piece to the defense in linebacker Devin White. After a great rookie season finishing second on the team with 91 tackles, White led the Bucs with 140 tackles this season.
White has been the leading tackler for the Bucs in playoff games against New Orleans and Green Bay.
Licht also added depth in the defensive backfield in Mike Edwards, Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis, and Sean Murphy Bunting. Murphy-Bunting has had an interception in three straight playoff games.
Davis led the Buccaneers with four interceptions this past season.
Defensive linemen Anthony Nelson and wide receiver Scotty Miller also came aboard via the draft in 2019. Miller has been used as the third receiver most of the season with Antonio Brown.
It gets better (with its downsides from the past)
This year, Licht added two more starters to the team, drafting tackle Tristan Wirfs. Wirfs will be that anchor on the left side of the line for the next ten years.
Defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. and wide receiver Tyler Johnson were drafted from Minnesota. Winfield Jr, in his first season, has become a starter at safety. Winfield Jr. and Wirfs were both named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team.
It hasn’t all been good times for Licht in the draft as he has his share of misses. Here are some names from the past that didn’t work out: Roberto Aguayo, Noah Spence, Vernon Hargreaves, and Matt Gay.
The best general managers don’t hit on 100 percent of the draft picks or have an impact class every year. But you need to get at least one player, maybe two every year, that can come in and contribute.
Jason Licht and the Bucs have been able to get at least one impact player for the last three years.
Licht has brought in Jason Pierre-Paul, who has 30 sacks in the 40 games he has played with the Bucs in free agency.
The Bucs GM also signed linebacker Shaq Barrett to a four million dollar one year deal. All Barrett did that season was lead the Bucs and the NFL in sacks with 19.5.
Licht also signed center Ryan Jensen to anchor the offensive line and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to bolster the defensive line.
This off-season, Licht made his biggest splash by signing quarterback Tom Brady to a two-year contract. This move was a total surprise, and no one expected Brady to sign in Tampa.
He then went out and traded for tight end Rob Gronkowski, another future Hall of Famer.
In late August, Licht brought in running back Leonard Fournette, LeSean McCoy, and kicker Ryan Succop. Succop has converted 28/31 FG attempts and 52/57 extra-point attempts.
In October, the Bucs brought in receiver Antonio Brown, who struggled at first but has been an essential piece of the offense down the stretch.
Licht has painted a masterpiece this season with the moves he has made to put this Buccaneers team together. However, the Super Bowl turns out; it should not tarnish what Licht has done.
Jason Licht has earned the GM of the year award.