Cards GM: Licht well-prepared to lead Bucs' turnaround
MOBILE, Ala. -- With a new coach and plenty of room for improvement, many Bucs fans have made optimistic parallels between Tampa Bay's 2014 team and the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs, who went from 2-14 to an 11-5 record and playoff berth.
With general manager Jason Licht now on board, the Bucs may draw parallels to another impressive turnaround: this past season's Cardinals, who went from 5-11 in 2012 to a 10-6 mark, with Licht assisting a turnaround built around a new coach and general manager.
"He was involved in all those moves. He and I worked very closely together on setting our free-agent board, our draft board, and with every acquisition, we talked extensively," Keim said. "He was a great sounding board for me, and I think people in Tampa will quickly see his ability to acquire good talent and do it in the right way. It's going to help that team immensely."
Arizona's turnaround was built around astute evaluation of several key veterans -- they acquired quarterback Carson Palmer, 34, from Oakland for an exchange of low-round draft picks, and he threw for a career-high 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns. They signed two linebackers -- Karlos Dansby, 32, and John Abraham, 35, and both had stellar years, with Dansby getting 122 tackles, 6.5 sacks and four INTs and Abraham getting 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Licht had the No. 7 overall pick last year, and Arizona's turnaround came despite that top pick, guard Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina, missing the entire year with a broken leg.
Arizona had dropped 11 of 12 games when the Cards hired Klem and coach Bruce Arians, and Tampa Bay arguably has a stronger nucleus of young talent than what Arizona started 2013 with. Keim said Licht's success is a function of his personnel background, but also his personal skills, being able to work well with others, both as a boss and as part of a team working together to make key decisions.
"He's got a unique skill," Keim said. "He can not only evaluate talent, but he does a great job in his interaction with people, whether it's secretaries or coaches. He does a great job with communication, allowing people to do their job but at the same time be an effective boss. We knew this day was coming, obviously, so it was just a matter of time."
Keim said the biggest transition in going from an evaluator to a general manager is understanding contract negotiations and the NFL's salary cap, and he believes Licht has picked up key experience toward that in the last two years with Arizona.
At 42, Licht is the ninth-youngest general manager in the NFL, but he's part of a closely packed group of eight GMs between the ages of 41 and 43, packing as much experience into 20 years as they can. Licht has worked with four teams that advanced to Super Bowls, and Keim said that experience has him in good position to handle all the challenges a first-time GM might face.
"He's done college scouting, he's scouted pro players," Keim said. "The biggest adjustment is the business side, and he's already started to get experience with that. Like any of us, when you get started, nobody hands you a manual that tells you how to be a GM. You have an experience level you have to count on, and you learn on the run. It's a baptism by fire to some degree, but he's so bright, it'll come quick to him. He won't make the same mistake twice."
Keim did say that he does not expect Licht to bring any scouting or front-office personnel with him from Arizona to Tampa Bay. "'Hands off,' I told him," he said.