Bucs GM Jason Licht excited about team’s draft options
TAMPA, Fla. — Jason Licht is a former scout and director of player personnel, so the NFL draft is a red-letter day for him. He has felt the anticipation of seeing the months, the countless hours of late nights and early mornings, come together in shaping a franchise’s future during previous career stops with the Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals.
Now in his first year as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ general manager, the process holds more meaning. The buzz is real.
"It’s our Christmas," he said Tuesday at One Buc Place.
Licht and new coach Lovie Smith hold six picks in the upcoming draft, which runs May 8-10. There will be plenty of attention paid to what the Bucs do with the seventh overall selection — Mike Evans? Johnny Manziel? Someone else? — but a foundation also will be set with what they do with pick Nos. 38, 69, 143, 185 and 221. Options are plenty.
Tampa Bay, despite a massive overhaul in free agency, still has needs to address. A wide receiver to complement three-time Pro Bowl player Vincent Jackson should be the first priority. But other depth on the defensive line and offensive line, particularly at guard, will be a concentration as well.
Fortunately for both Licht and Smith, each man has classified this draft as deep. Licht said the Bucs have more than 50 underclassmen that they deem as "draftable." Meanwhile, Smith admitted trading down from the seventh pick could "make sense," but he also enjoys the options available at the position.
"With what happened in free agency and what we know about our roster right now, we like those options as much as anything," Smith said. "And we think … that there are a lot of good players further down in the draft. But at that seventh spot, we feel like we’re going to get a pretty good player there."
Not surprisingly, Licht wouldn’t commit to a single player that the Bucs have targeted for the first round. He said they want "the best player," though most analysts expect at least one of the four much-discussed quarterback prospects — Manziel, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr — to be available if Tampa Bay remains at the seventh spot.
Movement is possible. Licht said discussions have been made with other teams about moving down and gaining more picks. Already, the Bucs have shown a willingness to secure an additional draft pick by trading troubled wide receiver Mike Williams to the Buffalo Bills on April 4. The deal netted Tampa Bay a sixth-round selection, 185th overall.
"We’ve already reached out to teams, and if our player isn’t there, we’d really be open to conversations about moving back and picking up picks," Licht said.
Still, many will watch to see if the Bucs draft a quarterback for the future. Manziel, who spoke with Licht and Smith during a pre-draft visit to One Buc Place on April 10, has been linked as a favorite option. Josh McCown, a 34-year-old signed to a two-year deal March 13, isn’t considered a long-term answer behind center. Mike Kafka was signed Feb. 10 to add depth, but he’s unlikely to see significant playing time. And with McCown named the starter for the upcoming season, the new regime has made clear they want more evaluation of former starter Mike Glennon.
"I don’t know how much of a priority it is," Smith said of drafting a quarterback. "You want to keep that option open of course — there are some good quarterbacks in this draft. I think that’s been documented, but looking at our roster now — and we had a chance to see our guys in action last week (during a voluntary mini-camp) — Josh McCown is a good quarterback that can lead us to a lot of victories. Mike Glennon is an excellent quarterback also. Mike Kafka is good. We feel pretty good about our guys we have here right now, even though there are a lot of good options at the QB position."
No matter the outcome at quarterback and elsewhere, the selections made in this draft will be more pieces in Licht’s and Smith’s evolving vision. Anticipation is high, especially for Licht in his new role.
The planning continues. So does the excitement.
"On draft day it will be simple," Licht said. "Lovie’s got his own grading scale, where we have numbers and things. Lovie’s either like ‘I like it or I love it.’ So it makes it a little easier."