TAMPA — I am here to defend Jason Licht’s contract.
Not his drafts, free-agent signings or hires. Not his philosophies, management style or record.
I am defending only the just-revealed four-year contract extension the Buccaneers general manager was given, even though he did not earn it.
Follow me here, and I’ll explain:
With their most important draft pick of the past 20 years, the Bucs selected Jameis Winston to rescue them from insignificance in 2015. And the Glazer family is not yet ready to give up that hope.
So to justify that decision, they took another risk by pursuing noted quarterback guru Bruce Arians, even though at 66 he became the oldest head coach to take over a new team in modern NFL history. And to make that risky decision work, they had to give Licht in January an extension to appease Arians.
In other words, they have dragged an entire franchise down a crater-sized rabbit hole while chasing Winston’s untapped potential.
And, strangely enough, that makes sense.
Considering their investment in Winston, and his flashes of brilliance, it is too soon to give up on him. In fact, it makes more sense to do everything possible to help him succeed in the final year of his contract.
And that’s why Licht’s contract also makes sense.
At least temporarily.
For now, the only thing Licht’s contract extension costs Tampa Bay is the paycheck being paid by the Glazers. It doesn’t waste a draft pick, and it doesn’t count against the salary cap.
The extension may not be justified by performance, and it certainly won’t galvanize the fans sitting in the upper deck, but there is a bottom-line sort of logic to it.
Of course, if the Winston-Arians partnership does not produce immediate results, all bets are off. You simply cannot allow an entire fan base to be held hostage while waiting for a quarterback to grow up.
And that means Licht should be sent packing, too, contract extension or not.
Because if the Winston connection is severed, Licht’s track record does not justify a seventh crack at the NFL draft in 2020.
The simple truth is, the dilapidated state of the franchise is Licht’s responsibility,
He has been on the job since January of 2014, and Tampa Bay’s record during that time is 27-53. If you’re wondering, only three NFL teams have been worse. If he was a player with that type of production, he would have been cut this year instead of rewarded.
And, really, Licht has no excuse. This is almost entirely his roster. Of all the players on the roster, only three — William Gholston, Lavonte David and Demar Dotson — have not been acquired during his tenure.
He can’t blame it on coaching, either. Though he arrived at the same time as Lovie Smith, he was in charge during the hiring of Dirk Koetter, and now Arians.
And it’s not as if Licht has been working under adverse conditions. The Bucs have had top-12 picks in five of his six drafts. The Glazers have also given him freedom to chase veterans through free agency and trades, with Jason Pierre-Paul, Ryan Jensen, Ndamukong Suh, DeSean Jackson, Logan Mankins and Brent Grimes all coming to Tampa Bay during his tenure.
So, for now, it appears we are all in this together.
If Arians can help Winston take meaningful steps toward being a franchise quarterback in the next three months, then his hiring will have been justified. And Licht’s extension will have been worth it. And fans will no longer bemoan the GM with the ugly record.
But if the Winston experiment blows up, the Glazers should not hesitate.
It will be time for Licht to go.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.