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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Future Stars

In just three years Jason Licht has built a roster that no opposing fan base should pencil in as a win (unlike the 2017 New York Jets). Although wide receiver and safety were two apparent needs, the Bucs had the cap space and Licht had patience to turn the 2017 off-season into one that has the entire NFL talking.

2017 Free Agency

Jason Licht rolled the dice during the 2016 season, hoping that aging veteran Vincent Jackson had one more year left in his tank. That gamble backfired. Jackson was having a sub par year before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in week 5 against the Carolina Panthers. With no real viable backup opposing defensive keyed on Mike Evans, in turn limiting Dirk Koetter’s play calling and his offense’s explosiveness, enter free agent DeSean Jackson.

Jackson was one of the blue chip free agents during the 2017 off-season. He has been one of the fastest wide receivers in the league since he entered the NFL a decade ago. Koetter wanted more speed on offense and Licht delivered. Jackson’s big play ability can not be overstated.

Chris Baker is a 320+ lbs DT that is the type of player defensive coordinator Mike Smith loves. The Bucs were weak against the run in 2016, especially up the middle. With no starting defensive linemen tipping the scales past 300 lbs the Bucs needed to get bigger. With Baker’s size and All Pro Gerald McCoy’s quickness, the team should be much tougher against the run.

J.J. Wilcox was brought in from Dallas to compete for the safety spot. Known as more of a hitter than for his cover skills he most likely make the roster for depth and to contribute on special teams.

Licht brought back many players that he had signed in years prior. All should make the team and a few will start week one. Those players include: Chris Conte, Jacquizz Rodgers, Joe Hawley, Sealver Siliga, and Josh Robinson.

Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was signed to compete for the backup job. While Nick Folk is trying to unseat kicker incumbent Roberto Aguayo, Garrison Sanborn is going to replace long snapper Andrew DePaola. Also CB Robert McClain was a late addition who will be competing for the slot corner position.

The only player whose odds are heavily against him to make the final 53 man roster is Tavaris Barnes. He’s young, athletic and raw as a defensive lineman. With the return of Jacquies Smith and George Johnson from season ending injuries and the addition of Baker, Barnes will be very hard pressed to make any impact.

2017 NFL Draft

Jason Licht filled all the teams glaring holes during free agency so it was people’s opinion that the Bucs could really take the best player available at the 19th pick in the 1st round. With the patience of a Zen Master, Licht fought the urge to trade up and had one of the best and safest pick fall right into his lap.

O.J. Howard was considered by many to be a top five talent in the 2017 NFL Draft. Since Howard played tight end, an undervalued position, he dropped right into Jason Licht waiting arms. Howard paired with fellow tight end Cameron Brate will become a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.

Justin Evans is the only pick I believe that Licht was cornered into. The Bucs needed a safety but depending on how the draft broke it became a question of when. Three safeties were taken in the first round, then another three were selected before the Bucs pick at 50 in the second. Licht couldn’t wait any longer so he pulled the trigger. Evans may be in the starting lineup around mid- season, but I think he starts on the bench, mostly because he can. Licht has built a roster where he doesn’t have to start inexperienced rookies anymore.

Chris Godwin generated the most buzz of any rookie thus far this off-season. Almost every coach and player interviewed during OTA’s has gone out of their way to make sure they mention his name. Like Justin Evans, Godwin probably won’t start week one but he will get plenty of playing time, rotating in for Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson.

Kendell Beckwith came as a surprise to everyone that follows the Bucs. Tampa already carried Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David. Jason Licht just drafted Devante Bond last season. What makes it even more strange is that Licht traded up for Beckwith and to top it off, Beckwith is coming of season ending ACL surgery. Beckwith may very well beat out Devante Bond for the starting SAM LB position but when you look at the pick as a whole it’s head scratching.

Jeremy McNichols is the Bucs running back of the future. I view him as Doug Martin with better hands and I love his Twitter nickname, #McWeapon. He has been injured all of OTA’s but I expect a lot of buzz about him during training camp.

Remember when I wrote about how the Bucs wanted to get bigger up the middle? Well the last pick of the 2017 draft for the Bucs certainly fits that bill. Stevie Tu’ikolovatu. I have Stevie T, or Big Stevie making the final roster and giving Jason Licht his first ever perfect draft class, where all draftees make the team.

2017 Final Head Count

That brings us to our final numbers that I wrote about on page one, 87 new players with an eye- popping 97% roster turnover.

The addition of Jackson and Baker brings Jason Licht’s new starter total to 17. That is 17 out of 22 in just four years and if O.J. Howard and Justin Evans learn quickly that number could climb to 19 by season’s end.

It is nearly impossible to predict which UDFA will make this years 53 man roster without any practices in pads, but if I had to pick one it would be TE Antony Auclair. The tight end position is loaded with talent but Auclair seems to have the nasty blocking gene that Dirk Koetter likes.

Jason Licht’s Future

Jason Licht has shown that he can create a roster from every outlet. Although his free agency record was shaky at first he hit a home run in 2016 and it looks very good for his 2017 class. The number of draft picks that make the team is improving, with four from the 2014 and 2015 draft to six in the 2016 and likely all of his 2017 draft (6).

Licht has found UDFA, tryout players, and mid-season acquisitions that have contributed in a big way for a few games and some that have even won starting roles.

Plain and simple, Jason Licht is the best general manager the Bucs have ever had. The Glazers would be wise to sign Licht to an extension this off-season, before the team he built makes a deep playoff run. I feel safe in saying that most Buc fans would agree with me and would love to see Jason Licht sitting in his office at One Buc Place for many years to come.

Next: Five key backups to 2017 success

Hey readers thanks for hanging in there and reading my first ever piece for The Pewter Plank, all 4000 plus words of it! You can find me on Twitter @Ren_Daxt and feel free to talk Buccaneer football with me. Be sure to fire off any thoughts you have on the article in the comment section below and until next time. GO BUCS!