Tom Brady was more than just the cherry on top.
No Brady, and the dessert crumbles. Ice cream everywhere.
But three scoops sat firmly in place even before Brady’s inclusion: Good offense, good defense and a good coaching staff. Thus, Bucs general manager Jason Licht deserves credit for providing the groceries necessary for a scrumptious Super Bowl sundae.
It’s true the Bucs didn’t win much until Brady arrived, missing the playoffs every year since 2007 and posting a winning record only once in Licht’s six previous seasons as Tampa Bay’s GM. They had amassed a 34-62 record on Licht’s watch, finishing in last place in the NFC South on four occasions.
A diligent rebuild showed promise in 2019, however, and the franchise’s potential for 2020 and beyond clearly appealed to Brady — so much so that the quarterback was willing to pack his bags and move south after 20 seasons and six Super Bowl titles with the New England Patriots.
“Our philosophy is going to be to build through the draft. That’s where we find our stars. That’s where we find the next generation,” Licht said during his introductory press conference in January 2014. “But also, in the short term and long term, we’re going to supplement our roster through free agency. But we’re going to look for value. We’re going to spend wisely.”
To say Licht achieved his stated goal would be an understatement, as Tampa Bay’s championship roster is littered with foundational pieces uncovered in the draft plus savvy free agent/trade acquisitions.
Let’s spotlight a few of the more notable draft picks, focusing on those who made noticeable impacts this season en route to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
|Year||Notable players drafted|
|2014||WR Mike Evans (Round 1, No. 7)|
|2015||LT Donovan Smith (Round 2, No. 34), LG Ali Marpet (Round 2, No. 61)|
|2016||CB Ryan Smith (Round 4, No. 108)|
|2017||TE O.J. Howard (Round 1, No. 19), WR Chris Godwin (Round 3, No. 84)|
|2018||DT Vita Vea (Round 1, No. 12), RB Ronald Jones II (Round 2, No. 38), CB Carlton Davis (Round 2, No. 63), RG Alex Cappa (Round 3, No. 94), S Jordan Whitehead (Round 4, No. 117)|
|2019||LB Devin White (Round 1, No. 5), CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (Round 2, No. 39), CB Jamel Dean (Round 3, No. 94), WR Scotty Miller (Round 6, No. 208)|
|2020||RT Tristan Wirfs (Round 1, No. 13), S Antoine Winfield Jr. (Round 2, No. 45), WR Tyler Johnson (Round 5, No. 161)|
We could go pick by pick, highlighting each player’s résumé, but the larger takeaway is this: The Buccaneers built a deep, balanced, talented roster, largely thanks to their drafting acumen.
Even the most recent draft class — welcomed into the fold after Brady’s arrival in Central Florida — was of the utmost importance this season, as Wirfs was a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, tasked with keeping Tampa Bay’s 43-year-old quarterback upright, and Winfield was a playmaking ball hawk who clowned on Tyreek Hill in Super Bowl LV.
The 2016 haul was a blemish, with Smith, a special teams contributor, the only player from that draft class remaining with the Bucs. (We’ll consider it karma for picking a kicker, Robert Aguayo, in the second round.) Otherwise, the Bucs have secured several impactful building blocks through the draft. Just how Licht envisioned.
The table above doesn’t even take into account quarterback Jameis Winston (the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 who signed with the New Orleans Saints after Brady arrived), tight end Cameron Brate (signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014) or linebacker Kwon Alexander (a fourth-round pick in 2015 who earned a Pro Bowl selection with the Bucs before signing with the San Francisco 49ers in 2019).
Nor does it highlight the importance of Licht’s other pre-Brady personnel decisions, like signing center Ryan Jensen, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and outside linebacker Shaq Barrett in free agency or trading for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
Or Tampa Bay’s success in bringing in a strong, diverse coaching staff, highlighted by head coach Bruce Arians, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Basically, the Bucs, hungry before Brady arrived, already were staring at a tasty treat. When Brady showed up, it was time to eat.