Free agency has come to a standstill and the NFL owners meetings are in the rearview mirror, all of which means it's time to get down to the only thing that matters this time of year in football: the draft.
For the Bucs, this is crunch time, and they know it.
With 11 picks in next month's draft, including the third overall selection, the complexion of the Bucs roster could be dramatically different when it's all over. And maybe that's not a bad thing for a team that coach Raheem Morris says has needs "across the board."
The goal isn't necessarily to reap a predetermined number of starters in this draft, but the idea, Morris and general manager Mark Dominik say, is to find NFL-ready players who can step in and play a role from Day 1. When you're just months removed from a three-win season, it is no time to start drafting projects.
"I think (this draft class) can have immediate impact," Dominik said. "I think it will have an immediate impact."
So, what constitutes an impact player when that player is a rookie? The answer, the Bucs say, is a player with a clear-cut role. Receiver Sammie Stroughter, though not a starter in 2009, is a prime example. He was the slot receiver, playing often on third down. In that role, he is on the field for some of the game's most critical snaps and was relied upon heavily in pressure situations.
"When I talk about competing for jobs and the opportunity to play, I use the term starter maybe too much," Morris said. "Sammie Stroughter in my eyes last year was a starter. To me, he had a role, it was defined and when we called a certain personnel grouping, he ran out on the field. There wasn't a guess. It wasn't a situation where he had to look around and wonder if he was going in at the right time.
"With guys like that, you can find out pretty early, define their roles, play to their strengths, do the things they do well and get them out there. So I do believe these guys (will) come in and create more competition. … They don't have to run out the tunnel" during pregame introductions.
The bar will, of course, be set higher for the player the Bucs select with the third overall choice, especially if it's one of the touted defensive tackles the Bucs covet — Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy.
"Those guys have to be productive, and they have to come in and want to win," Morris said of high draft picks. "You don't want to put too much pressure on that young man and say he has to be an impact starter or Pro Bowl-type player when he gets there. But you do want him to be able to come in and (be) a presence."
Morris emphasized that if the Bucs execute well in this draft, they will be much improved. To that end, they are pulling out all stops.
"We've started changing things," Dominik said. "We changed our scouting reports. We changed the way our coaches evaluate players. We changed the way we talk about players in draft meetings. We look at assessing a player's value within a round, how to stack the board to where you think you are getting the best value in the round. There's a lot of those little things that we do (that are) very important for success."
Again, the goal isn't to simply find 11 picks, but 11 contributors who will be afforded every opportunity to impact the team.
"As we sit here today," Dominik said, "that is 11 possibilities for new jobs."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.