Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were more than the faces of last season in the Buccaneers Super Bowl.
They were the final pieces of a puzzle on the list.
Brady filled a critical void as a quarterback, and together he and Gronkowski led a talented team to its full potential. Naturally, his return to New England this Sunday has been a hot topic of conversation throughout the region. But another former Patriot, equally responsible for the Tampa title, also returns home: general manager Jason Licht.
Licht originally joined the organization as a scout in 1999 and rose quickly to assistant director of player personnel before leaving for the first time in 2002. His efforts helped lay the groundwork for three Super Bowl teams, and the front office selected players. like Brady, Richard Seymour. , Matt Light, Kevin Faulk and Deion Branch. Licht rejoined the Patriots in 2009 and spent three years as a professional personnel director.
According to the Buccaneers website, Licht was responsible for “monitoring each NFL roster with an emphasis on scouting for future professional free agent talent, while also maintaining depth on the New England roster” during that time. weather. The Pats rebooted their dynasty during the 2010 offseason, which ended a terrible 10-6 season with a 14-win campaign and the ensuing Super Bowl streak. His 2010 draft class is one of the best of the Belichick era, led by Gronkowski and safety Devin McCourty.
Getting top picks in the draft has been at the heart of Licht’s success in Tampa Bay, where he selected Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans with the first pick of his term.
“It is doing what every successful GM does. He’s gotten players through the draft that he thinks can be winners, and he’s been right in the first round for a significant amount of time, which is hard to do, ”said Hall of Fame general manager Bill. Polian, to the Herald. “Second, you have added people who have proven to be winners.”
Namely, Brady and Gronkowski.
What attracted Brady to the Tampa Bay roster, in addition to Evans and other weapons, was depth and talent on both sides of the ball. Protecting Brady’s blind side now are 2015 draft picks left tackle Donovan Smith and left guard Ali Marpet. Licht added starting right tackle Tristan Wirfs in the 2020 draft, another stud from Day 1.
Defensively, Licht built the Bucs like Belichick once did.
Former Ravens and Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah, now the NFL Network’s top draft analyst, says the Buccaneers have largely followed Belichick’s model, most notably when selecting star nose tackle Vita Vea in 2018. Despite playing in an often-overlooked position, Vea is a burgeoning star in the NFC. Shortly after Licht originally left New England in 2002, the Patriots selected defensive tackles in the first round of consecutive drafts in 2003 and 2004.
Since then, they have taken defensive tackles with one of their top two picks in five drafts.
“I see Bill Belichick’s model of building the medium, which they’ve done forever,” Jeremiah said. “I think of the Vince Wilforks and the Ty Warrens, the difference investing in the greats can make from the start. The Patriots over the years have also brought a kind of veteran pass rusher to the brink, as Tampa has done with Jason Pierre-Paul.
“And then you look at the reversal in the middle linebacker, where (Jerod) Mayo (was) a top pick and (Dont’a) Hightower. The Bucs just had Devin White in the first round of 2019. ”
The similarities don’t end there. In 2020, the Pats took Kyle Dugger at the start of the second round, moments before Licht selected another safety in Antoine Winfield Jr., who started all 19 games of his young career. Both in profile and physical and intoxicating players in the coming years.
“Safety instincts are paramount for Belichick, as is soccer intelligence,” Jeremiah said. “He’s always wanted and been able to play smart safeties, and Winfield Jr. is incredibly bright and instinctive.”
Overall, Licht drafted 11 of Tampa Bay’s 22 starters on offense and defense, many of whom he retained this offseason. He filled in the gaps with star players, unafraid of making big changes through trade and free agency, as Polian noted the Patriots did with Randy Moss, Darrelle Revis, Stephon Gilmore and even Antonio Brown, now a Buccaneer.
Before Brown, Tampa signed big names in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and running back Leonard Fournette, a ready roster built around Brady that Licht knew he could thrive on.
“To me, it was clear that there were a lot of meaningful pieces on defense and just like the great quarterbacks I’ve been with, they always felt like they could elevate the game of people on that side of the ball,” the analyst said. from ESPN. Mike Tannenbaum, former vice president of soccer operations for the Jets and Dolphins. “So if Tampa had a good defense, and they had it, you knew it would be fine.”
More than good, the Bucs were doing well at the Patriot level, which meant one Super Bowl race and possibly another, with their next stop Sunday at Foxboro.