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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Starters, Stop Gaps, and Depth

Out goes head coach Lovie Smith, replaced by incumbent offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.

Jason Licht found himself at the start of the 2016 off-season now in sole control of personnel decisions and he fixed his eye on improving the defensive side of the ball. The 2015 Bucs defense was woeful, especially the secondary, and Licht invested heavily in the pass rush and corner back play. He addressed by bringing in aged veterans over 30, something the Bucs rarely did, and using early draft picks to address both positions. Jason Licht, arguably, had his best off-season to date.

2016 Free Agency

Five defensive free agents were signed in 2016. One of the biggest was Brent Grimes, a Pro Bowl cornerback from Miami, that Koetter and new defensive coordinator Mike Smith were familiar with when all three were together in Atlanta.

He acquired Robert Ayers, a DE/DT from the Giants that brought an edge to the defensive line that had been sorely been missing since Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp left for Oakland.

Licht hoped for a lot from Daryl Smith, a SAM LB from Baltimore, that once again had ties to Koetter and Smith back from their Jacksonville days.

Chris Conte was resigned to a one year deal and Licht also brought in a blazing CB, Josh Robinson, from Minnesota.

Four of the five won starting jobs in 2016 and Robinson has provided depth both at cornerback and safety, while playing a very good gunner for the Bucs.

Looking to solidify the offensive line even more Licht signed mauler J.R. Sweezy away from the Seahawks and added an outstanding punter in one Bryan Anger.

2016 NFL Draft

Jason Licht, as it turned out, had a banner free agency class in 2016, but since three of the four starters out of that class were over the age of 30 Licht used the draft to double down at every position.

Widely considered the best cover corner in the 2016 NFL Draft the Bucs moved two spots, picked up an extra third round pick and still got their man in Vernon Hargreaves. VH3, as he is now known, became a day on starter and is expected to make a big jump in play in year two.

Early on in the mock draft process Noah Spence was constantly being projected as a Buccaneer, but at pick 9 not pick 39 where the Bucs ultimately got him. Billed as a pass rush specialist only, Spence played significant snaps on 1st and 2nd down because of injuries to the defensive line. Finishing the season in an arm brace with a torn labrum Spence never took a play off. Now with a year under his belt Spence’s defensive line mates think he will have a breakout sophomore year.

Easily one of the most criticized and mocked draft picks in recent memory was Jason Licht moving back up into the second round to select FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo. Looking to lock down any field goal worries for the next ten plus years, Licht was bold and went and got his man. Aguayo finished the year with the worst FG% in the NFL and although Licht has brought in serious competition, Nick Folk, Roberto still has time to make Licht’s plan a reality.

Besides the selection of Kwon Alexander, Jason Licht hasn’t had much luck with draft picks past the fourth round. In 2016 however this all changed.

Ryan Smith, a CB/S out of tiny North Carolina Central, was brought in to help with safety depth. After a season of just seeing the field as a special teams player Smith has moved back to corner back, the position he played during his junior and senior seasons with the NCCU Eagles. The Bucs brass are high on Smith and he has entrenched himself as the Bucs third outside CB.

Caleb Benenoch is a G/T from UCLA that provided much-needed depth for the Bucs in 2016. Benenoch got into five games as a rookie with one start. Caleb is almost guaranteed to make the roster this year giving the Bucs versatility and depth as he develops into a possible future starter.

Devante Bond was drafted to be the eventual replacement for Daryl Smith at the SAM linebacker position. Placed on IR during the preseason in 2016, Bond received a “red shirt” year and ran with the ones during this years OTA’s.

Dan Vitale early on was seen by Buc fans as the second coming of Mike Alstott, a white fullback out of the Midwest that wore the number 40. Like Alstott, Vitale’s skill set was much different from a traditional fullback. Unfortunately for Dan the TE/FB position in Dirk Koetter’s offense had to block and quite frankly Vitale could not. He was cut during the preseason.

The Final Head Count

Only seven remaining ’17 players didn’t make the 2016 90 man roster. As all the mathematicians out there already know that only leaves 10 Bucs from 2013 with a whopping 88% turnover in just three years.

2016 is also the first year where several of Licht’s UDFA not only made the 53 man roster at one point or another during the season, but played some valuable minutes for the team. Those players include: Peyton Barber, Alan Cross, Russell Hansbrough, DaVonte Lambert, Channing Ward, and Leonard Wester, all of whom are still with the team.

Jason Licht’s efforts brought him six 2017 starters. Grimes, Ayres, Sweezy, VH3, and Jacquizz Rodgers.

When Doug Martin went down in week two against the Cardinals, Licht brought in Rodgers, whom I have penciled in as the week one starter because of Martin’s three game suspension.

That brings the total number of starters to 15. No matter how you slice it, that is impressive GM work.