TAMPA — Jason Licht will be making the Bucs’ first-round pick when the NFL draft begins in two weeks. Because of social distancing, he will do it in virtual fashion from his home office in south Tampa. If something goes awry, if there is a disconnection while they are on the clock, the team’s director of football technology, Spencer Dille, will be at the general manager’s house for any repairs.
And if all else fails?
Licht will pick up the telephone and call Ken Fiore, the NFL’s vice president of player personnel, and give the league the name of the Bucs’ pick.
There are contingency plans for backup plans, but despite the awkwardness and inconvenience of conducting arguably the most important draft in club history in a virtual fashion during the COVID-19 outbreak, Licht expects everything to go smoothly.
“Sometimes you can get over-technical in these situations," Licht said Thursday in a conference call. “You want to make sure you have a hardline phone. You want to make sure you have several phones available to you, cell phones, what have you. But sometimes it comes down to old-fashioned picking up the phone and calling on the league office and saying, 'We’re going to pick this player.’
“We’ll have all our scenarios done when the draft starts in terms of where I would trade up, where I would trade back. What we’d be looking for, what we would be wanting. What players we’re going to take in order — those types of things. But in terms of the technical part? We’re still working through it a little bit, but I feel very confident."
But just in case, Licht will participate in a mock draft hosted by the NFL sometime in the next two weeks in an attempt to iron out any kinks.
“I may pick a kicker," Licht joked on the Rich Eisen Show on Thursday.
Dille has built a unique app that the front office personnel is using remotely to communicate and provide access to the Bucs’ draft board. Licht can change the team’s player rankings and the scouting staff can watch the adjustments in real time.
“Each general manager and each head coach are going to have an IT person that’s going to be available at their residence," Licht said. “I feel very comfortable with that. In terms of who actually turns in the pick? I might call someone and tell them to turn it in or turn it in myself. I think that’s the least of our concerns."
Given the fact that the Bucs were able to sign Tom Brady in free agency, this arguably will be the biggest draft for Licht and the team in recent memory.
Brady will be 43 years old in August, so the Bucs are operating in a small window for success with the six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Licht acknowledged that he has missed on his share of players in the draft. The Bucs traded two picks to move up into the second round for place-kicker Roberto Aguayo in 2016. In fact, only cornerback Ryan Smith, a fourth-round pick that year, remains with the team after re-signing as a free agent.
But the Bucs are well-stocked enough, particularly on offense, to attract Brady as a free agent. Licht acknowledged there still are needs at offensive line and at running back.
“I have taken my fair share of criticism, a lot of it deserved, and I’ll never shy away from that," Licht said. “But we’ve also had a lot of hits and brought in a lot of good players that got us to this point. It feels very good, it feels damn good, to have a player of Tom’s stature and the resume that he has that felt like this was a place that he could come and win. So it feels damn good."
At least five offensive tackles are expected to come off the board in the first round, many of them before the Bucs use their No. 14 overall pick.
Brady is used to using an array of running backs as receivers, which is not a strength of third-year pro Ronald Jones. He led the Bucs in rushing with 724 yards and six touchdowns while catching 31 passes for 309 yards.
“We do think Ronald hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he can be. He made a huge jump from Year 1 to Year 2," Licht said. “...It doesn’t stop us from wanting to add to that group, which is something we may do depending on who’s there, where they’re at, what other positions we’re looking at. But we have a lot of faith in Ronald and more faith in him than we’ve ever had. But that’s another position, looking across the league at some of the better teams, they have one, two or three guys, sometimes four, that they can rely on at different times in their offense.”
Tracking how the draft unfolds with respect to what other teams around the league are focused on may be a challenge this year. Normally, the Bucs’ front office, scouts, head coach Bruce Arians and some of his staff would be operating the draft from a conference room in the AdventHealth Training Facility. But they will have to monitor the movements of other teams and share the information remotely.
“Like I said before, I’ve got a great IT department, it’s the best I’ve ever been around,” Licht said. “And we’ve already gone through that. I feel very comfortable with the information I’m going to be able to get. It’s incredible, the things that they can do. It’s going to be a little different. In between picks, instead of high-fiving and doing those types of things, I’ll probably have to take out the trash and empty the dishwasher. It’s going to be a little bit different. My kids will be in the house. They’ve already been told they got to give me some space.
"It’s going to be different, it’s going to be fun, it’s going to probably be something we remember for the rest of our lives.”