There probably isn’t another player currently wearing the pewter and red of the Buccaneers who takes more of a beating from the team’s fans than safety Chris Conte.
Conte has become a punching bag, a favorite target for criticism among Bucs fans, but one person who believes Conte has been getting “a bad rap’’ is Bucs general manager Jason Licht.
Now, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Licht would come to Conte’s defense. After all, for the third time in as many years Licht has signed Conte to a new contract. And this time he doubled down on him. After signing Conte to one-year contracts in the spring of 2015 and 2016, Licht signed Conte this time around to a two-year, $5 million deal.
That means more Chris Conte for the Buccaneers, and while fans may be consider the signing to be lunacy, Licht says he’s happy to have Conte back and he explained why on Saturday. “First off, Chris is very tough,’’ Licht said following the press conference that was held to introduce DeSean Jackson and Chris Baker as Buccaneers.
“And Chris works his butt off. “In fact, he’s here right now working with (defensive coordinator) Mike Smith. But that’s Chris. After we agreed to terms (on Thursday) he was back down here within like 15 minutes. “I thought he was coming in to shake hands and all that but he wasn’t. He came in the meet with (defensive backs coach) Brett Maxie. I mean, that just kind of tells you what kind of guy Chris is.’’
It’s not Conte’s work ethic that fans dislike. It’s his production. It never seems to be good enough for most and Licht understands some of the criticism but he also believes there’s a lot fans are missing. “Chris made some big strides last year,’’ Licht said. “He made a couple of big plays last year to help us turn some games around and he’s a good athlete and things are starting to come along for him.
“Things are really starting to gel for him in this scheme now and he was really coming along until that (chest) injury hit last year. That was really unfortunate for him.’’
Some might consider the Bucs decision, made Saturday, to sign J.J. Wilcox as a free agent a bit unfortunate for Conte, too, but Licht said no one has been handed a starter’s job at that position.
Licht said Wilcox, Keith Tandy and Conte will all compete for starter’s jobs once the team gets back to work and there’s still a chance, though it’s fading, that Bradly McDougald could still be a part of that mix.
“We have a plan,’’ Licht said, “but I don’t want to reveal everything about that plan right now.’’