Buccaneers: Jason Licht has flipped 97% of his roster in just 4 years

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images) /
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Building the Core

After tanking the final game of the 2014 season against the New Orleans Saints the Bucs secured the overall number one draft pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, but whom the selection would be was far from being settled.

The pick was always going to be between two quarterbacks, FSU Jameis Winston or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Current Bucs head coach, then offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter went on record saying that he preferred the Oregon QB and had to be sold on, by head coach Lovie Smith, that Winston was the right choice.

Smith lobbied hard inside the walls of One Buc Place for Jameis Winston. How much convincing did Jason Licht need, if any at all, will likely never be known. However the organization feels like they made the right choice and believes the Bucs have found their franchise QB.

2015 Free Agency

Jason Licht did not select a single defensive player in the ’14 draft so it was not surprising that six of the seven 2015 free agents were on the defensive side of the ball.

The only offensive free agent signing was tight end Tim Wright. Wright did have five touchdowns for the Bucs in just 16 games played, but he will most be remembered for being traded twice by Licht. First he was traded to the Patriots for Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins during the 2014 season and then again to the Lions for big legged but accuracy challenged kicker Kyle Brindza in 2015.

The defensive signings were George Johnson, Henry Melton, Bruce Carter, Larry Dean, Sterling Moore and Chris Conte. Johnson’s signing was later disputed by the Detroit Lions and went to arbitration. Eventually a trade was worked out were the Bucs sent a 5th round draft pick to the Lions in exchange for Johnson and a 7th round selection.

All things considered this is the second year in a row of a sub par free agency class. Licht has signed a ton of player but most have been stop gaps or right out busts. Conte and Johnson are the only two still on the current roster. Although Conte is slated to start at safety he may not be by week 17. Johnson, who recorded six sacks for the Lions in 2014 had zero for the Bucs in his first year. The following year he broke his hip in training camp and was lost for the season. Now healthy Johnson is ready to go for the upcoming season, but Licht has added depth along the defensive line and he is by no means a lock to make the 2017 roster.

2015 NFL Draft

After one of the most extensive vetting processes in Bucs history Jason Licht selected Jameis Winston with the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The cornerstone of any longtime successful NFL franchise is employing a career top ten quarterback and by all early indications Licht has struck gold by drafting Jameis Winston. Number 3 still turns the ball over too often and tries to do too much in big games but he is a fierce competitor and possesses the football IQ to become one of the greats.

Round two Licht turned his attention to keeping Jameis upright and selected left tackle Donovan Smith. He then traded back up into the second round and chose Ali Marpet, an unknown guard from Division III Hobart College. Both Smith and Marpet were instantly inserted into the starting lineup and both are thought to be potential longtime body men for Winston.

Because of the Marpet trade the Bucs didn’t pick again until the fourth round where Licht found his future starting MIKE LB Kwon Alexander. The Alexander selection came as a bit of a surprise to Buccaneer fans because Licht had just signed free agent Bruce Carter to anchor the middle of his defense. It didn’t take long for the coaching staff to recognize that Alexander was an absolute steal as the 124th player taken and by week two of the preseason Kwon had won the starting job and hasn’t looked back since.

The rest of the draft amounted to nothing. Kenny Bell, Licht thought he had another steal in the WR from Nebraska. So much so he stashed Bell away on IR for an entire season hoping that a year of study would help Bell’s progression. In actuality, Bell was an underwear football All-Pro, but when the pads came on he disappeared faster than a chocolate bunnies ears on Easter Sunday. Bell was cut in 2016.

Jason Licht tried to fill the kick returner and fullback spots with Kaelin Clay and Joey Iosefa respectively. Neither player worked out and were let go.

When all is said and done I expect around 20 Pro Bowls out of this draft class. Buc fans can point to this draft as the core rebuilding year that will have their team seriously competing for the division title for the next decade.

2015 Final Head Count

The remaining players from the 2013 90 man roster is now down to 17. Jason Licht cut the previous years number in half and after just two years he has flipped 81% of the roster.

2015 is also the year tryout player Adam Humphries made the team and is in line to keep his starting slot WR job this upcoming season. Safety Chris Conte is also slated to be in the lineup week one. Then add in the four year one starters from the draft and Licht has found a total of nine 2017 starters in his first two years.