When just about anyone thinks of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers these days, they think of Tom Brady.

But it’s been general manager Jason Licht who’s been the steady hand that’s mostly responsible for building the team as people see it, now.

Ever since the 2018 season, Licht has been an absolute pro at bringing in difference-makers through all avenues. Whether it be the trades for Jason Pierre-Paul and Rob Gronkowski, the drafting of Tristan Wirfs, or the signing of Brady himself – Licht has been dialed in like few other GMs in the NFL.

But it’s one of Licht’s more recent moves -the trade for guard Shaq Mason- that represents a crucial move destined to help the team in a major way.

And after Ryan Jensen’s recent injury, it stands out more than ever.

Mason is one of the league’s better and more underrated guards and Licht was able to snag him from the New England Patriots for a measly fifth-round pick back in March. Mason’s arrival was clutch due to the departure of Alex Cappa and retirement of Ali Marpet.

In the end, the Buccaneers actually upgraded over Cappa. Both in on-field play and, they didn’t have to sign Mason to a four-year, $35 million deal like the Cincinnati Bengals did with Cappa. The fact it cost just a fifth-round pick, which the Buccaneers still managed to get back in the draft, makes Licht look even that much better.

And pay no mind when it comes to Mason’s zero Pro Bowls as he enters his eighth season. As we all know, Marpet was one of the best players on the Buccaneers, yet, he didn’t make the Pro Bowl until his seventh and final season in the NFL.

But, getting back to the point: Without this trade, the Buccaneers would be heading into 2022 with an interior offensive line likely consisting of Aaron Stinnie at left guard, Robert Hainsey at center, and Nick Leverett or the recently-returned Sadarius Hutcherson at right guard.

Mason proves a reliable, stable veteran presence. Which is exactly what is needed right now and during the season.

And he’s making that present felt as much as the Buccaneers’ most recent practice on Friday.

That’s more important than ever, as we know how much interior pressure affects the play of Brady. Who knows how bad things could get if Mason weren’t on the roster.

Licht’s savvy forward-thinking has kept the Buccaneers from landing face-first in you-know-what. The 2021 Buccaneers were arguably a better team than the 2020 version and that was with a litany of injuries. It’s very likely the Buccaneers beat the Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs if they have Chris Godwin and Tristan Wirfs.

Licht, knowing this made the Mason move and even the Julio Jones move because, based off last year, he knew the offseason was the time to make these moves – not during the season.

“We had a lot of injuries last year, like you said, going down the stretch that really hurt us and we wanted to try to avoid that situation this year if we could,” Licht told reporters Thursday.

And because of that, the Buccaneers have avoided a catastrophe on the offensive line.

And, let’s not forget, he drafted Hainsey, who is likely to be the Buccaneers’ starting center in 2022. If he pans out, then Licht has thrown the Buccaneers another life preserver.

But if Hainsey doesn’t pan out, there’s little reason to doubt that Licht won’t be able to pull the Buccaneers out of that situation, either.

Featured image via Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports