The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the darlings of the 2017 offseason. Many picked the Hard Knocks squad to dive deep into the playoffs behind a star-studded offense and surging defense.
Instead the Bucs sunk.
In an interview with Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said he "cringed at" the preseason predictions for his team.
"The whole year, just the expectations were -- not set by us -- it was just something I cringed at," Licht said. "Of course, you want positive things written about us, but when the expectations are we've got these weapons and now we're going to score 50 points a game, it's just not that easy.
"I think these guys are going to learn a lot from this season. I know we only finished with five wins, but there's nobody walking around here thinking anything but good things about next year. Everybody is excited about it."
Licht, who defended his choice to bring back coach Dirk Koetter, noted three main issues that helped cause the Bucs' 2017 struggles: Jameis Winston's injury, the running game problems, and the lack of a pass rush.
Licht noted Winston "was not the same guy" after a shoulder injury until resting midway through the season.
Doug Martin's problems on the ground exacerbated Winston's injury issues for an offense that struggled to move the ball for long stretches.
"I think the lack of, or having a hard time getting the run game going was ... you know, Doug just didn't have ... he just wasn't ever the same," Licht said. "And it wasn't until late that Peyton [Barber] kind of arrived and things started going a little bit better with him, starting with the Green Bay game and on and on."
The above quote is as clear a sign as a GM usually gives he will move on from a player -- there is no guaranteed money left in Martin's contract.
As for the lack of a pass rush, Licht noted a season-ending injury to Noah Spence and Jacquies Smith's failure to recover from a torn ACL, two players the Bucs counted on.
Licht added that he plans to focus on building the defense this offseason.
"We've been pretty heavy offense," he said. "It's the way things fell. We wanted to surround our quarterback with good players. Now it's a little bit more of a challenging phase right now to concentrate on trying to build that defense up."
The decision to bring back Koetter was the opening move in a vital offseason for Licht. If another disappointing season ensues, the Bucs could scrap the entire operation in 2019, including the GM.
Update: On Tuesday Licht clarified his "cringe" comment had to do with the offense's poor start to the season:
"Expectations were progress. I said that from the beginning. And obviously we didn't; the record doesn't show that we made progress," Licht said, via JoeBucsFan.com "So it is. I mean, we failed to meet those expectations. When I was talking about 'cringing,' I was talking about how [we] make these moves, high-powered offense. When I said 'cringe,' I was mostly talking about, like I just said before, the immediate, come-out-of-the-gate-swingin' [expectations], everything gelling immediately, when I knew that it was going to take some time. At the end, 5-11, that's not what we want, obviously. Disappointed, yeah, I used the word brutal."