Ever find yourself wondering why?
If you’re fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I’m sure you have. The team with the single worst winning percentage in the league has offered up plenty of opportunities to question the process. Why have they never drafted a QB good enough to be signed to a second contract? Why did they draft a kicker in the round two? I could go on and on…
This offseason, however, “why” has a different tone.
Why is it that a team who’s in the midst of another QB crisis, a team who peaked at 7 wins in the last 3 years, all the sudden has everything turn up daisies? Why did an offensive tackle fall to them in a year they desperately needed one? Why in the hell is Tom Brady in Tampa?
To answer that, I’d like us to take an admittedly large step back.
The first two head coaching decisions made in the Glazer era, Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden, were absolutely brilliant moves. Tony Dungy already has his bust in Canton, and Gruden has reached the pinnacle of head coaching and broadcasting with many years left in the tank. Their first GM, Rich McKay, would assemble the best team in franchise history in the coming years. He went on to draft Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Mike Alstott, Ronde Barber, and the rest of the Super Bowl krewe of 2003. McKay wouldn’t stay on board to see the end of the Gruden era, but this was due to him asking for and being granted his release due to the allegedly awful relationship between he and Gruden, and not because of the Glazers nor his performance.
After going 3 for 3 with three homeruns in their first three hires, the Glazer decision makers got a little cocky.
Jon Gruden was fired for consecutively going 9-7, a record that has only been bested once and by one single win in the 11 years since. It was this decision than began a sputtering decade of hapless wheel-spinning devoid of a single playoff victory.
With the Midas-ian, yet so far statistically accurate, implication that every decision the Glazer organization would turn to gold, the Glazers put faith in themselves and started making decisions at a feverish rate.
The next two GMs, Bruce Allen and Mark Dominik, would man the ship for only four years a piece while building teams to the specific likings of multiple coaches. That said, the head coaches had it even worse. The next four head coaches in Tampa, Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith, and Dirk Koetter, only saw two and a half years of employment with the team on average. Only one of these coaches, Lovie, had any NFL head coaching experience, and only Dirk had any NFL coordinator experience. (Techically Raheem had a few days of defensive coordinator experience because he was promoted from a defensive coach position to defensive coordinator and again to head coach in the same offseason, but I am not counting that.)
These people, the humans chosen from the entreity of the populus to lead this football team over the course of a full decade, were more often than not people who had no prior experience doing so. Worse than that, they were given no time to develop or rebound from mistakes. The 9-7 record that got Gruden fired a decade ago was now a mirage of an oasis in a desert of Ls.
The next GM, Jason Licht, was hired alongside Lovie Smith in 2014. Licht, through his ups and downs, has so far proven to be a GM worthy of being retained. Is he the guy that drafted the kicker? Yes he is. Did he decide free agents like decide Chris Baker and Michael Johnson were worth several million more dollars than they proved to be? Also yes. But there is plenty of yin to that yang.
No one hits on 100% of their draft picks, but Licht has had his share successful selections in the draft. Mike Evans, Ali Marpet, Vita Vea, and Carlton Davis III are true impact players taken in the top two rounds just to name a few. Licht has proven he can find undrafted gems as well, with players such as Adam Humphries and Cam Brate now on multi-million dollar contracts in the league.
Perhaps Licht’s biggest area of growth has been in free agent signings. The aforementioned Chris Baker and Michael Johnson have been replaced by hit after hit in the defensive free agent market. Tampa local Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndomukong Suh, and 2019 NFL sack master Shaq Barrett had to be persuaded by Jason Licht’s vision (and the Glazer’s checkbook) to join, but they now make up arguably the best defensive front in the league. Then the 2020 big signing Lesean McCoy came to town to steal the show….. OH AND ALSO TOM BRADY.
So, snap back to reality, all this left me wondering why. Why is Tom Brady here again? Why again did I write out all this unfortunate history? Why force a poor reader to utilize a few minutes of their precious time on earth sifting through the regrettable the history of a bad team?
The reason is that buried in this mess of a somewhat historical report, but only once mentioned, is the reason why Tampa won this offseason.
The retainment of Jason Licht, which hopefully serves as a signal of the changed career development outlook for GMs and head coaches by the Glazer family, was ultimately the decision that has won Tampa the offseason and brought this franchise back to prominence.
If there is no Jason Licht in 2019, I’m confident there would be no Bruce Arians. If there is no Bruce Arians in 2019, I’m confident there would be no Tom Brady in 2020.
Were these calculated measures? Probably definitely not. But for the first time in a decade the Tampa organization made a decision based on faith in a person they believed in rather than a statistic. The uncertainty that came along with the zest for hiring a young upstart head coach was replaced with the reality that a two-time coach of the year could erase the need for evaluating new coaches in one fell resumé.
Finally, with some faith placed in their hired leadership rather than the Glazer’s own decision making, the Buccaneers we afforded the time to build the core of a roster and prove a sense of stability attractive enough to bring in All-NFL level talent . Have they proven a single thing yet? No. Could the Glazers prove me wrong and clean house if the Bucs miss the playoffs in the Brady era? Absolutely. But the retention of the defensive front seven and the addition of Tom Brady to a team already on the cusp of the playoffs is enough for me to go all-in on at least the next two years of Buccaneers football.
Oh, and only because I almost made it through an entire article without saying his name, Jameis Winston. That is all.