New Bucs GM Licht faces a challenge

Jason Licht, center, has been on staff with a Super Bowl champion (New England), two NFC title teams and two AFC title teams. He's been with four teams that have reached the Super Bowl.
Jason Licht, center, has been on staff with a Super Bowl champion (New England), two NFC title teams and two AFC title teams. He's been with four teams that have reached the Super Bowl.
Published Jan. 22, 2014

You hear he is diligent. You hear he works hard. You hear he has an eye for talent. You hear he can be a little aggressive with his opinion behind closed doors.

All of that is, of course, great.

But what you really, really want to know about Jason Licht is this:

Has he fixed the pass rush yet?

Has he found the team's franchise quarterback yet?

Has he plugged the leaks in the offensive line yet?

In other words, welcome to town, Jason. There are some long workdays ahead.

The Bucs finally ended their general manager odyssey Tuesday afternoon when they hired Licht. Evidently, it wouldn't have taken nearly so long if Licht's resume weren't so darned impressive. There is Bill Belichick in that resume, and Scott Pioli. There is Andy Reid and Tom Heckert. There is Bruce Arians and Steve Keim. There are four Super Bowls.

To sum it up, Licht, who turns 43 next month, has worked in some impressive places, for some impressive people, and over the years, he has helped to identify some impressive players.

Now all he has to do is help the Bucs be impressive again, too.

To start, he could find another wide receiver. Or two.

To follow up, he could find another linebacker.

Sometime before dinner, he could find a tight end.

In other words, this job isn't exactly a stroll through the gardens. As a team, the Bucs have some impressive pieces, but they also have some gigantic holes. The offense was an eyesore last year. The defense underachieved. The trophy case has cobwebs.

Failure has a thousand parts, of course. But for a long time, this team's weakest position has been at general manager.

Even Rich McKay, who had the great draft of '95, missed on many of the team's prime picks afterward. His replacement, Bruce Allen, drafted like he was blindfolded. Mark Dominik had a few hits, but for the most part, it seemed as if he were throwing darts at the draft board.

A franchise cannot recover from that. Because he is the safeguard of the future, the general manager needs to be the most consistent guy in the building. Sure, he's going to miss on a few draft picks, but he has to get enough right to keep the team upright.

Here, the result has been a lost decade in which the team never won a playoff game, where it has tried to turn Michael Clayton and Dexter Jackson and Gaines Adams and Josh Freeman and Brian Price and Da'Quan Bowers and Roy Miller and Sabby Piscitelli into players.

In other words, there were too many swings and too many misses by the general manager's office.

On the surface, then, Licht seems like a chance worth taking. No, he has never been a general manager before, and no, he has never worked with coach Lovie Smith before, and no, he isn't the life of the party.

On the other hand, with Licht working as a tag-team partner with Keim, Arizona had the most impressive turnaround in franchise history, going from five wins to 10 with a series of deft moves such as picking up Carson Palmer and Karlos Dansby. The Patriots are the most consistent team in the NFL. And the Eagles always seemed to be in the playoffs.

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Licht was a finalist two years with the Bears, and he interviewed this year with the Dolphins. He has been on staff with a Super Bowl champion (New England), another AFC title team and two NFC title teams — four teams that have reached the Super Bowl.

For a team that has now gone a decade without a playoff victory, all of that sounds pretty good.

It's also a good thing that Licht came out of his interviews with control of the draft. Yeah, Smith has control of who makes the 53-man roster, but what are we really talking about here? A coach may like an extra linebacker instead of a fullback, an extra corner instead of a third quarterback. Those aren't the make-or-break decisions for a franchise.

The bigger question? What do you do with the No. 7 pick in the draft? Do you take a quarterback — the most crucial decision for any franchise? Do you go with a tackle? With a pass rusher? Much of what you think of Licht will be based on what you think of that decision.

Today, you don't know much about Licht. You don't know if he's the right man to guide this team back into relevance.

Soon, you will.

In the meantime, don't you think he could sign a guard in his spare time?