The Tampa Bay Buccaneers just got rid of one of the last remaining players left from their 2016 Draft. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was waived on Tuesday morning after being benched during Sunday’s game against the Cardinals for what Bruce Arians called “not hustling” on a play. It was a strong statement from the staff that this kind of play will not be tolerated around here any longer, no matter who you are or where you were drafted.
Hargreaves was selected 11th overall in the first round by the Buccaneers after a stellar career at the University of Florida. He had a decent rookie year starting all 16 games finishing with 76 tackles, 1 interception, and 9 pass breakups. Since then, he’s been a disappointment playing in just 19 games and producing just one more interception (Week 1 vs the 49ers) and 10 more pass breakups over the last three seasons combined. Not exactly the kind of career that you want from your first-round cornerback selection.
This roster move by the Bucs got me thinking about Jason Licht’s tenure here in Tampa and the decisions that have been made on his watch. There’s a lot of Bucs fans out there that don’t think he’s a very good NFL general manager and want to see him gone. So is that really the case, or are they just disgruntled fans looking for someone to blame? The truth is that Licht may take the brunt of the blame for poor draft choices or bad free agent signings, but he has an entire staff dedicated to scouting and evaluating players in college and all around the league who deserve the blame as well. Ultimately, it’s Licht who has the final say on a player, but he’s basing his decision on the information being passed on to him by his staff. If that information is wrong, or the player assessment is off, shouldn’t the scouting department take the heat or is it still Licht’s fault because he’s the one who hired the staff that apparently can’t properly evaluate talent?
I think the real question that we have to ask is, does Jason Licht actually have a bad enough track record with drafts and free agency to warrant this criticism? Well, that’s what I wanted to take a closer look at here. So let’s start with his drafts since that seems to be a hot topic right now with the Hargreaves situation.
(* means the player is still on the Bucs current roster, ** means the player is still in the league, *** means the player is an unsigned free agent)
1st: WR Mike Evans *
2nd: TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins***
3rd: RB Charles Sims***
5th: OL Kadeem Edwards***
5th: OL Kevin Pamphile**
6th: WR Robert Herron***
1st: QB Jameis Winston *
2nd: OT Donovan Smith *
2nd: G Ali Marpet *
4th: LB Kwon Alexander**
5th: WR Kenny Bell***
6th: WR Kaelin Clay***
7th: FB Joey Iosefa***
1st: CB Vernon Hargreaves***
2nd: LB Noah Spence**
2nd: K Roberto Aguayo***
4th: CB Ryan Smith *
5th: OL Caleb Benenoch***
6th: OLB Devante Bond***
6th: FB Dan Vitale**
1st: TE OJ Howard *
2nd: S Justin Evans *
3rd: WR Chris Godwin *
3rd: LB Kendell Beckwith*
5th: RB Jeremy McNichols***
7th: DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu***
1st: DT Vita Vea *
2nd: RB Ronald Jones II *
2nd: DB MJ Stewart *
2nd: CB Carlton Davis *
3rd: G Alex Cappa *
4th: S Jordan Whitehead *
5th: WR Justin Watson *
6th: LB Jack Cichy *
1st: LB Devin White *
2nd: CB Sean Murphy-Bunting *
3rd: CB Jamel Dean *
3rd: S Mike Edwards *
4th: OLB Anthony Nelson *
5th: K Matt Gay *
6th: WR Scotty Miller *
7th: DL Terry Beckner Jr. *
As you can see, Jason Licht has made 42 draft picks since joining the Buccaneers in 2014. Of those 42 picks, 24 are still on the Bucs current roster. Not only that, but 16 of those 24 are starters, and another four of his picks are on the active rosters of other teams right now. That means that nearly 60% of his selections are still on this team, and 38% of his selections are starters.
On average, the first-round draft picks only have a success rate of about 50% or so. Of the six first-round selections that Licht has made, Hargreaves is the only one not on the team now. The others are Mike Evans, Jameis Winston, OJ Howard, Vita Vea, and Devin White and have all been home runs so far. That’s nearly an 84% success rate on his first-round picks.
Has Jason Licht made a few questionable choices over his six drafts? Absolutely. The trade up into the second round for Roberto Aguayo will forever be unforgivable to me. But I don’t really think that you can criticize a guy who’s drafted 16 of the 22 starters on their current roster. That doesn’t even take into account players like Kevin Pamphile or Caleb Benenoch, who were starters at one point in their time in Tampa. Ryan Smith should be considered a starter on special teams, and he was the starting corner for a bit as well. Kwon Alexander is a starter in this league even though it is with another team now, and then you have Kendell Beckwith and Justin Evans, who were both starters until injuries sidelined them. He’s gotten better over the years. The 2016 Draft turned out to be a disaster, but since then, 19 of his 22 selections have not only made the team but contributed enormously.
So in my opinion, Jason Licht has done a pretty solid job drafting during his time here in Tampa.
LICHT’S UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT SIGNINGS
2014- TE Cam Brate*
2015- WR Adam Humphries**, CB Jude Adjei-Barimah***
2016- RB Peyton Barber*, TE Alan Cross***, DB Isaiah Johnson**, OL Leonard Wester**, DB Javien Elliott**
2017- TE Antony Auclair*, LB Riley Bullough**, WR Bobo Wilson***
2018- OL Cole Boozer***, DE Demone Harris*, TE Tanner Hudson*, RB Shaun Wilson**
2019- CB Mazzi Wilkins*
As you can see, Licht has had some success finding diamonds in the rough after the draft too. Cam Brate, Adam Humphries, and Peyton Barber were and are monster contributors. Other guys like Alan Cross, Isaiah Johnson, Leonard Wester, and Javien Elliott were all starters at one point while Antony Auclair, Riley Bullough, and Shaun Wilson all saw significant playing time; Cole Boozer, De’Vante Harris, Tanner Hudson, and Mazzi Wilkins were all on the practice squad as well. The success rate of undrafted free agents in the NFL is next to nothing. So for Licht to be able to find this many players that actually contributed to the team is impressive to me.
LICHT’S UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT SIGNINGS
2014- OL Evan Smith, DE Michael Johnson, DT Clinton McDonald, TE Brandon Myers, CB Alterraun Verner, QB Josh McCown, OT Anthony Collins, LS Andrew DePaola.
2015- LB Bruce Carter, S Chris Conte, DL Henry Melton, DB Sterling Moore, S DJ Swearinger, OL Gosder Cherilus, QB Ryan Griffin* (waivers), traded for DE George Johnson.
2016- G JR Sweezy, DE Robert Ayers, CB Brent Grimes, LB Daryl Smith, P Bryan Anger, RB Jacquizz Rodgers.
2017- DT Chris Baker, WR DeSean Jackson, DB JJ Wilcox, LS Garrison Sanborn, K Nick Folk, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
2018- DT Beau Allen*, DE Vinny Curry, DT Mitch Unrein, K Chandler Catanzaro, C Ryan Jensen*, DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches*, RB Dare Ogunbowale*, DT Jeremiah Ledbetter*, S Andrew Adams*, LB Kevin Minter*, CB De’Vante Harris (waivers), DE Carl Nassib* (waivers), traded for DE Jason Pierre-Paul*
2019- WR Breshad Perriman*, P Bradley Pinion*, LB Deone Bucannon, OLB Shaq Barrett*, G Earl Watford*, DT Ndamukong Suh*, RB TJ Logan* (waivers), TE Jordan Leggett* (waivers), OLB Sam Acho*
Here you can see the progression of Licht’s free-agent acquisitions. Some of his earlier signings were terrible like Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins. Others like Evan Smith, Clinton McDonald, and Ryan Griffin worked out pretty well. But it wasn’t until 2018 when he really started adding important pieces to this team’s puzzle. That year alone he brought in Beau Allen, Ryan Jensen, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Dare Ogunbowale, Andrew Adams, Kevin Minter, Carl Nassib, and Jason Pierre-Paul. That’s an impressive free-agent haul for one season, and all of them are still on the current roster. This year it was more of the same, signing Ndamukong Suh and the NFL sack leader Shaq Barrett. Sure he’s had his fair share of free agent busts, but for the most part, he’s added talent and depth throughout his time here, especially of late.
My hypothesis from this little bit of research is that some of you Bucs fans need to lay off of Jason Licht. With the exception of linebacker Lavonte David and right tackle Demar Dotson, who’s been here in Tampa since 2009, Licht has drafted or signed every other starter on this football team. In fact, the only two players on the entire roster that wasn’t brought in by Licht are defensive lineman William Gholston and right tackle Demar Dotson. Yes, he’s had his misses here and there, but he’s also accounted for a number of record-setting players for this organization too. There’s no doubt that he’s created a stockpile of talent over the last few years. It just hasn’t come together for him for some reason. Licht has compiled a record of 30-59 since 2014 and is now on his third head coach in 6 years. If there is a knock on him, that’s it.
But even after a 3-6 start to this 2019 season, I feel like his plan for this team is finally coming together. He just needed the right head coach. I think that he’s found his guy in Bruce Arians. This season may not be going as we all had hoped it would so far, but I feel like the tide is turning in Tampa Bay. I feel like this team is on the verge of something BIG, and if my gut feeling is right, then Jason Licht deserves as much credit as he’s gotten criticism from this fan base.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!