The Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided to keep general manager Jason Licht in charge of team building for at least the next season. He has had the biggest hand in selecting and signing players for the Bucs since 2014. His class of 2015 however, will make or break him in 2019.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are entering season number six with Jason Licht in charge as General Manager. Jason Licht has an overall record of 27-53. Licht has seen two coaches get fired under him. The start to Licht’s time in Tampa wasn’t exactly a dream come true. Outside of just two Pro Bowl players in Quarterback Jameis Winston and star wide receiver Mike Evans, Licht has struggled. He has taken a chance on Division III players like Ali Marpet and has been rewarded with solid play. Even though he has had some big hits, he has also had some big misses. Two players in the second round in 2016 with defensive end Noah Spence and kicker Roberto Aguayo.
Arguably his most important draft was the 2015 draft class containing Winston, Left Tackle Donovan Smith, Marpet and Linebacker Kwon Alexander. That class has the most to gain or lose this year. If Winston pans out at quarterback and Smith shows that he can be a true franchise blind side protector for Jameis that would check two key positions for a traditional team build. Both players can be gone by the start of next season if Licht decided so.
Face of the Franchise?
I have talked in length in favor of QB Jameis Winston before but he is truly at the center of the problem with the 2015 draft class. He is the true definition of inconsistent. He has had incredible highs with his stat lines and incredible lows in some performances. It all started with a pick-six on his vert first pass as an NFL player. He hasn’t returned to the Pro Bowl since his rookie season in which he was an alternate.
The position needs stability on the field as well as off, and Jameis hasn’t been out of the headlines for longer than 2 years for his behavior off the field. Quarterbacks are not a strength in this years draft class and Tampa has too many holes to risk sending Jameis packing and selecting a new passer at five overall. This season will hopefully show more on Winstons ability between the lines rather than his trouble out of them.
The Blind Side
Donovan Smith has to sign a new contract if he wants to stay with the team, but will Tampa offer anything substantial? Some say Licht has to sign him as he is facing a case of “replace him with who?” Left tackles with the size and athletic ability like Smith don’t come around often.
As a player, Donovan Smith hasn’t shown enough consistency at left tackle to warrant a big payday. He has allowed too many pass rushing opportunities to enemy defensive ends, and hasn’t done himself any favors with penalties. He will most likely receive a new contract with the team, but it could end up haunting the team for years and may very well outlive Licht in Tampa Bay.
The league as a whole doesn’t have many left tackles for Tampa to just let him leave, they almost have to sign him. He very well could become a pro bowler, but I’m sure Tampa would happily have a solid starter at a good price.
Kwon Alexander provides a huge challenge this off-season for Licht. Should he decide that Alexander is a fit under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, he will have to pay a pretty penny for the young up and comer. Licht could end up with a team friendly deal/injury discount as Alexander is still recovering from his ACL tear. I don’t foresee Alexander selling himself short as other teams will be in need of a young defensive player.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will show new defensive fronts in 2019 under Todd Bowles. Some of those looks could include with four linebackers. Kwon has shown a playmaking ability in his short career but he has been exposed in some areas. It seems he has struggled when covering running backs, like the ones all three division foes roster. He might not be a big need for the new defense, but teams like the Bucs can’t afford to let one of their best defensive players go.
This off season will be a big vote of confidence in this draft class if Licht keeps all three with new contracts. If at least one of these three players joins Ali Marpet with a new contract that would be a win for Licht. There is also a possibility none of those three work out. If that’s the case, Jason Licht will face some big questions. Jason Licht cannot afford to continually miss on players on draft day and neither can this team.
To truly get out of the NFC South basement the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to get more than solid play out of the Quarterback and Left Tackle positions on offense as well as defensive play and leadership that Alexander is capable of providing. 2015 was four years ago and its time for this class to pay off.