(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the Jason Licht interview click on the following attachment: Ep 54: Buccaneers GM Jason Licht Joins The Show | Spreaker)
Hall-of-Fame coach Jimmy Johnson once said the hardest part of coaching in the NFL is not winning a Super Bowl. It's winning a second one.
His reasons were as numerous as they were legitimate: Off-the-field distractions, shortened offseason, contract disputes, free agency. You name it, there are a myriad of reasons why no Super Bowl winner has repeated since 2004.
But this year’s Tampa Bay Bucs may be the anomaly, and not because Tom Brady is the quarterback. Because Jason Licht is the GM.
If there were such a thing as an Offseason Executive of the Year, Licht would by the 2021 runaway winner. Nope, he didn't sign a raft of marquee free-agents away from other teams. He didn't have to. He signed a raft of marquee free agents from his own team.
Linebacker Lavonte David and Shaq Barrett. Running back Leonard Fournette. Tight end Rob Gronkowski. Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. Kicker Ryan Succop. He even protected wide receiver Chris Godwin with the franchise tag, extended the contract of quarterback Tom Brady, reached agreement with wide receiver Antonio Brown and retained key rotation pieces like Kevin Minter, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Josh Wells and Aaron Stinnie.
In essence, he did what Super Bowl winners aren't supposed to do: He kept everyone. In fact, all 22 starters from the Super Bowl champions are back, and that hasn’t happened in the salary-cap era. In fact, according to Elias Sports Bureau, it hasn’t happened since the then-Oakland Raiders in 1977.
“When we were at the boat parade (following the Super Bowl win),” he said on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com, “Bruce (Arians, the Bucs’ head coach) got on stage and said that, ‘We’re going to bring you all back.’ And I also had a few … (he laughs) I was hydrated pretty well … and I double-downed on it. And then I looked at my wife, and I said, ‘Oh, no, how are we going to do this?’
I don’t know either. So we asked.
“As we started moving along through free agency,” he said, “(director of football administration) Mike Greenberg and Jackie (Davidson, director of football research) and (director of player personnel John) Spytek … we just started attacking these one at a time. There was really no priority -- whichever ones we could get done first and second and third and so on.
“And we kinda found that during this process, that everybody wanted to be here. I don’t want to say they took discounts, but it wasn’t as difficult as it would be if we were coming off a 9-7 year, that’s for sure. They all wanted to be here. They all love playing for this coach. They all love playing with the quarterback and with each other.
“It’s the absolute best locker room I’ve ever been a part of, and it’s so selfless and there’s no drama and everybody really wants to win. It’s funny, bringing up Jimmy (Johnson), I worked for him for one year (1996), my second year in the league, and he sent me a text after the Super Bowl and said, ‘Now the hard part begins.’ “
Except now the hard part is over. Teams that win Super Bowls aren’t supposed to win the offseason, too. But that’s exactly what’s happened in Tampa Bay, with Las Vegas oddsmakers making the Bucs this season’s NFC favorite. OK, so that’s not unusual. Reigning champions usually are at or near the top of the betting board. But the reality is that Super Bowl teams rarely repeat.
Unless, of course, they have Tom Brady. And the Bucs do.
Brady is the only quarterback in the 21st century to win back-to-back Lombardi Trophies, the first quarterback since Jim Kelly in 1993 to lead his team to a Super Bowl after losing it the previous season and the only quarterback … period … to play a Super Bowl in his home stadium.
But the Bucs are more than just TB12. Which is why Licht’s comments about “the best locker room I’ve ever been a part of,” jump off the page.
It's not as if Licht is someone new to the profession. He’s been in the pro game since 1995, with previous stops in Miami, Carolina, New England (twice), Philadelphia and Arizona (twice), and someone who’s been around Don Shula, Jimmy Johnson, Andy Reid and Bill Belichick. So he understands that winning cures a lot of shortcomings. But there have been plenty of winners with distractions, concerns and drama.
So what makes Tampa Bay the exception?
“We’ve had so many years here where we were either close to making it,” Licht said, “or had those games where the interception or the fumble or whatever it was -- missed field goal -- away from … maybe the record was 5-11, but there were just so many games that could’ve been 10-6.
“They were just tired of losing. And now all the players saw the talent that we had, the coach that we had and it’s time to stop messing around, stay focused and let’s just worry about winning.
“So Mike Evans never complained if he had one catch in a game. Chris Godwin the same. Gronk. It goes on and on. Tom Brady doesn’t care if he throws for 150 yards, as long as we win the game. I think it starts with him, and his selfless attitude that just kind of bleeds into everybody else. On defense, as well.
“So, everybody just had their eye on the prize, and that was the first thing (Bruce Arians) talked about every day in the team meeting. (It was): ‘We have one goal. It’s to put a ring on our finger this season. So forget about everything else.’ And everybody just followed him.”