TAMPA — It helps to have a degree in sports speak so you can translate what is said at the annual NFL pre-draft news conference.
You won’t find better lies on a fairway at Augusta National. Nobody in the league wants to reveal the slightest hint of their true intentions this close to the draft.
You can’t blame them, really. Networks will devote hours of coverage for three days to players’ names being read at podium. Why hurt the ratings?
On Tuesday, it was Bucs general manager Jason Licht’s turn to talk for about 21 minutes and say nothing about the team’s true plans for the draft.
Fortunately, what Licht did say can easily be translated..
Is there any update on the team’s attempt to trade Gerald McCoy?
Licht: “You know, I talked about Gerald at the combine. I talked about him, answered some questions at the owner’s meetings and there really hasn’t been any developments. Gerald’s on our football team, so just going to hopefully keep this to pre-draft questions.”
Translation: We’re onto Cincinnati. Belichickian, sure, but McCoy is not walking through that door at One Buc Place. His career in Tampa Bay is finito. We’re not paying him a dime of $13-million salary owed in 2019. Maybe some team that doesn’t get a defensive tackle in the draft will offer us a Philly steak sandwich like we got from the Eagles for DeSean Jackson. Either that or we cut him to create cap space to sign our draft picks.
Do you think Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray will be a top-five pick?
Licht: “I can’t answer that, you never know what happens on draft day. That’s what makes it made for TV. I’ll keep that opinion to myself, but he very well could. If he does or doesn’t it affects what happens behind the No. 1 pick, so we just have to be prepared for all the scenarios.”
Translation: My friend, Arizona Cardinals GM Steve Keim, won’t return my phone calls. Like everyone else, we’re getting the feeling they would love to trade the No. 1 pick and just build around Josh Rosen. If not, we fear they may select Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, the perfect player to replace McCoy. So this could screw up our plans.
What kind of player does he think they will draft at No. 5
Licht: “I think we’ll get a very good player at five. I think we have a very good player. We have at least five players that we think — at least five, that if we stay in our spot, that we’d be very happy with.”
Translation: Do the math, sport. Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams, Josh Allen, Ed Oliver. Even if you exclude Murray, that leaves us LSU linebacker Devin White. Now if the first three are gone and someone takes White in the top four, we’re trading down.
Where is the dividing line between great and good players in the first round?
Licht: “We have a line drawn at a certain number. It’s still a talented group. I would say after a certain number — which I won’t give — then they kind of all are together. It’s tougher than most years to really rank the top 50 players because of that. The flip side is that’s what makes this draft exciting."
Translation: The line is whatever pick we move back to. Ideally, that’s only three or four spots. That’s where we hope we can still draft Michigan linebacker Devin Bush, who’s almost every bit the player White is.
What are the expectations for a linebacker taken in the top five?
Licht: “You’re thinking that he’s going to be a special player and make an impact. To say that he’s Ray Lewis, I think that that’s a little tough to say.”
Translation: We’d settle for Patrick Willis.
What are your expectations for a rookie drafted in the first round?
Licht: “It’s tough to expect your rookie, no matter where you take him, to come out and just have an All-Pro/Pro Bowl year. I remember when I first started this, my bosses always told me, ‘You have to give him three years.’ Then it was two and now everybody expects them by Week 2 to be Player of the Week, making highlights and making top 10 on ESPN SportsCenter. So, the expectations are growing, so — you do want these guys to contribute right away.”
Translation: Whoever we pick in the first round better be Barry Bonds and knock it out of the park. Some of us might not be able to wait three years.
Can you give us a memorable moment during your time as the GM for the Buccaneers during the draft?
Licht: “Man, there has been a lot. I would say when moving up into the second (round) and taking Ali Marpet and finding out that we have some people above me who had relatives at his draft party and had no idea. So, it was just kind of a cool thing of how ironic that was.”
Translation: Must. Not. Say. Roberto. Aguayo.