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Buccaneers’ GM Jason Licht holds pre-Draft press conference

Robert Brumfield

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GM Jason Licht with the media on Thursday, April 11th (Photo Courtesy of: www.buccaneers.com)

On Thursday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Jason Licht spoke to the media about the upcoming NFL Draft in Detroit. Licht answered questions about everything from the teams’ offseason moves to this point as well as Draft specific topics.

The media in the room first prodded him about the recent acquisition of veteran pass rusher Randy Gregory and how he would affect the Buccaneers’ approach to the Draft. He was very complimentary of Gregory’s skillset and fit with Tampa defense. Licht seemed to be confident that bringing Randy Gregory onto the roster wouldn’t necessarily affect who was drafted. The way Todd Bowles mixes up stunts and blitz packages, I would look for the Buccaneers to draft a rotational pass rusher in the first two days.

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He spoke in a roundabout way on fan expectations versus what the scouts and coaches see on the field. It’s no secret that the Bucs overperformed in 2023, winning their Division for the third consecutive year. By playing way above what was expected, Baker Mayfield bought alot of goodwill not only with the fanbase but also with his front office. With exception to a few positions, Tampa Bay’s Draft Room can have a chance to add several picks that are the overall best player available (BAA) rather than drafting for need. Drafting for need out of desperation to fill a position backfires more often than it works out.

Licht made mention of his affinity for the “trenches” and seemingly foreshadowed their intention to look heavily at linemen from both sides of the ball. The Bucs’ needs include a couple of interior offensive linemen, including a Center, when Draft Night comes. He took time to shoutout his staff for their hard work and staying power over the previous few years.

When asked about the skill positions, namely wide receivers, Jason pointed out “you can’t have enough of those”. It’s highly likely Tampa drafts a Wide Receiver sometime in the middle 3 rounds, and this is the ideal Draft to do so, being the best WR Draft class in the past decade. Stud wide receivers like Keon Coleman from Florida State come to mind as nice fits in Tampa Bay, but that is the fan in me more than the writer.

The most interesting part of the interview, for some, was Licht’s comment that he would “not rule out” drafting a Quarterback. I am sure there are some of the more inflammatory outlets or blogs that will (intentionally) interpret that as some sort of shade thrown Baker Mayfield’s way, but it certainly was not. There is logic in evaluating young quarterbacks, even when you have a franchise starter, because as we’ve learned in recent years, anything can happen in full contact sports. Sixty six different quarterbacks made an NFL start last year which seems like an astronomical number until you see that 68 started the year prior. Drafting a QB in a middle to late round would be great insurance for the Bucs’ entering year one of Baker Mayfield’s new deal.

Jason Licht has used his ability to be in tune with his staff over the last 2 years since Tom Brady departed to turn over a major portion of the roster and make this Tampa team alot of people counted out into a perennial contender. They were quite literally one drive away from potentially going to the NFC Championship in 2023, fighting tooth and nail against the Detroit Lions until a game sealing interception with 90 seconds left. This young team will only improve from here, in part because of the stellar work by GM Licht.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs host 10th annual “Cut and Color Funds the Cure”

Robert Brumfield

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Photo Courtesy of: www.buccaneers.com

Thursday at AdventHealth Training Center saw some staff and players take part in one of the most fun yearly rituals here in Tampa, the “Cut and Color Funds the Cure” benefit. The event, held for the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation (NPCF), is in it’s tenth year, and it brought out a huge group of Bucs legends.

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During the event, Buccaneers current and former players, staff, and even hall of famers have their heads or facial hair shaved or colored red by pediatric cancer patients . This year even brought out Buccaneers COO Brian Ford to take part in the festivities.

In the ten year tradition, the team has raised over $700,000 for the NPCF and created many more priceless memories. For the first time this year, the event was open to the public, with seating access and signed photos going to fans that donated at least $100 to the cause.

Current or former staff members in attendance this year were GM Jason Licht, Head Coach Todd Bowles, former coach Bruce Arians, Assistant General Managers Mike Greenberg and John Spytek, and others. Players like Mike Evans, Jamel Dean, Antoine Winfield Jr., Cade Otton, and Yaya Diaby sat while patients sheared or died their hair while the press took photos and fans interacted with staff and members of the NPCF.

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Former players notably involved this year included Rob Gronkowski (of course), Mike Alstott, Ronde Barber, Barry Smith, Dave Moore, Richard “Batman” Wood, Jimmie Giles, Martin Gramatica, Michael Clayton, and Dexter Jackson.

Buccaneers Chief Operating Officer Brian Ford was quoted, “Every year we try to give an afternoon to some very courageous children and their families to forget about what they are up against, and you just see smiles all around.”

The National Pediatric Cancer Foundation is a non-profit based right here in Tampa. The purpose of the organization is to raise awareness and fund research to try to eliminate childhood cancer. It uses research initiatives to combat cancer early on in some cases and fund targeted treatments in collaboration with the nation’s leading hospitals. Cancer is the number one disease based cause of death to children in the U.S. and everyday, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer in this country.

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More than 95 percent of childhood cancer survivors experience significant health-related issues by age 45 due to the current treatment options, something the NPCF is trying to change. Sadly, only 4% of the billions of dollars allocated for cancer research by the federal government is specifically for treating childhood cancer.

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Buccaneers officially add Ryan Jensen to the Retired/Reserve list, marking end of an era

Robert Brumfield

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Photo Courtesy of: www.buccaneers.com

This week marked the official end of an era for former Buccaneers Center, Ryan Jensen, though it was mostly a formality at this point. Jensen had announced his intent to retire back on February 2nd after playing nine seasons as a professional.

Jensen was the centerpiece of an offensive line that dominated for most of his tenture in the Bay. Notably, the team’s four highest scoring seasons were from 2018 to 2021 with Jensen snapping the ball. He also anchored the line for Tom Brady in Super Bowl LV.

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The Baltimore Ravens drafted Ryan Jensen in the 2013 NFL Draft with the 203rd overall pick (Sixth Round) out of Colorado State (Pueblo). Jensen played four seasons as a Raven, with 2017 being his final season after starting all 16 games and being noticed by other teams around the League. That is when Tampa Bay entered the picture.

Jensen was signed by the Buccaneers entering the 2018 campaign. He immediately became the starter and one of the most dominant centers in the NFL. Throughout his five years played in red and pewter, Jensen was the linchpin for an offensive line that led the NFL in passing yards per game (305.0), as well as second ranked overall in third down conversion rate (44.5%), yards per play (6.1), first downs per game (23.2), points scored per game (28.6), and total yards per game (400.9). His offensive lines also yielded sacks at the fifth lowest rate of any team during this span.

Sadly, in a painfully ironic twist of fate, Jensen suffered a season ending knee injury during the Buccaneers last preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens of all teams. General Manager Jason Licht announced shortly after that Jensen would miss the entirety of the season. While the February announcement makes the retirement itself merely a formality, seeing Jensen’s name officially added to the retired list marks the end of a proud era for this offensive line that powered the Greatest QB of All-Time to a Super Bowl just a few short years ago.

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Jensen finishes his career with 100 games under his belt, including 90 starts. His 5,307 snaps played between the 2017 and 2021 seasons are the most played by any player. We as fans will now wait the mandatory five years and hope that in the distant future, Jensen will be named to the Hall of Fame in Canton. He sure has earned it.

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All-Pro Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. signs record breaking new deal

Robert Brumfield

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Photo Courtesy of: www.buccaneers.com

Buccaneers GM Jason Licht placed the Franchise tag on Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. almost immediately during this off-season. Winfield Jr. had been voted First Team All-Pro after a stellar season and was as much of a priority to keep on the roster as Baker Mayfield or Mike Evans were. Franchise tagging a player doesn’t necessarily guarantee an extended stay, however. Ideally, a tag is a stop-gap measure to keep the player on until a contract agreement can be reached.

Bucs Nation can breathe a collective sigh of relief now after the team and Winfield Jr. reached an agreement this week to a four-year, $84.1 million contract that makes the 25 year old the highest paid defensive back in NFL history. This marks the first time a safety has held the highest paid slot at DB, usually reserved for cornerbacks. The deal includes a $20 million signing bonus with $45 million guaranteed, keeping Winfield Jr. in Tampa Bay through 2027. When he spoke to the media after the signing, Winfield said his best football was yet to come.

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The Buccaneers in recent years have a seemingly great rapport with their players when contract time comes up, due alot in part with the excellent management of Jason Licht and his staff. Twice in the past three years a franchise tagged player has signed a long-term extension with the Buccaneers, with the most recent example being in 2022 with wide receiver Chris Godwin.

Winfield Jr. was selected with the 45th overall pick during the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. After winning a Super Bowl during his standout rookie season, his play has continually improved and the statistics back it up.

In 2023, Winfield Jr. set new personal season records in tackles (122), sacks (6), forced fumbles (6), fumble recoveries (4), AND interceptions (3). Social media absolutely caught fire when Winfield was initially not chosen for the Pro Bowl, yet that was ultimately overshadowed by his First Team All-Pro selection, which is the gold standard of NFL personal season achievements. As he begins his fifth season as the star safety for the defending NFC South Champion Bucs, look for plenty of highlights from #31 in 2024.

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