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 Chiefs, who went from 2-14 to an 11-5 record and playoff berth.
With general manager Jason Licht now on board, Bucs fans might draw parallels to another turnaround: this season's Cardinals, who went from 5-11 to 10-6 under a new coach and a new general manager, with Licht assisting.
"He and I worked very closely together on setting our free agent board, our draft board. And with every acquisition, we talked extensively," Arizona GM Steve Keim said of Licht, his vice president of player personnel. "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 keyed by the acquisition of three veterans. It got quarterback Carson Palmer, 34, and a seventh-round draft pick from Oakland for a sixth-round pick and a conditional seventh-round pick. Palmer threw for a career-high 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns. It also signed linebackers Karlos Dansby, 32, and John Abraham, 35. Dansby recorded 122 tackles, 6½ sacks and four interceptions; Abraham 11½ sacks and four forced fumbles.
Arizona's turnaround came despite the No. 7 overall draft pick, guard Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina, missing the entire season with a broken leg.
Arizona had lost 11 of 12 games when it hired Keim and coach Bruce Arians.
Keim said Licht's success is a function not only of his personnel background but his personal skills. He works well with others both as a boss and as part of a team making 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 (of him leaving) was coming."
Former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, now the Titans coach, said he appreciated Licht's fluency in pro and college scouting, which will help with the broad oversight required of a general manager.
"I had a lot of interaction with him, both in the offseason, when you have a heavy dose of personnel decisions, but also in-season, when one of the most critical things for your team is when you have injuries and you're trying to build the roster," Whisenhunt said. "He did such a good job with that, and I was so impressed."
Keim said the biggest transition in going from an evaluator to a general manager is understanding contract negotiations and the salary cap. He believes Licht picked up key experience toward that over the past two years.
Licht has worked with four teams that advanced to Super Bowls, and Keim said that experience has him in good position to be a first-time GM.
"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. 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."