Bucs get their big man at tackle in Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs

Tampa Bay moves up one spot to No. 13 as the top tackles peel off the board.
Published April 24, 2020|Updated April 24, 2020

TAMPA — The Bucs needed a big man. There is no glory in girth. The tubby tackles aren’t going to sell a lot of jerseys or tickets.

But when soon-to-be-43-year-old Tom Brady is your quarterback, someone must do the dirty work to keep him clean.

How about a slab of Iowa beef?

Related: Trading up just one spot ensures Bucs get their right tackle

Having watched three of the four elite offensive tackles come off the draft board, the Bucs traded with San Francisco to move up one spot to No. 13 and select Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs.

Tampa Bay sent its first-round (14) and fourth-round selection (117) to the Niners for the 13th pick and a seventh-rounder from San Francisco.

The worst-kept secret in the draft was that the Bucs needed a right tackle.

Wirfs played both left and right tackle for the Hawkeyes. At 6-foot-5, 322 pounds, he has freakish athletic ability. His 40-yard dash time (4.85 seconds), vertical jump (36.5 inches) and broad jump (121 inches) ranked first among offensive linemen at the NFL combine.

Related: Florida Gators’ CJ Henderson picked by Jaguars

He was a state wrestling champion at Mount Vernon High School in Iowa, where he also won state discus and shot put titles.

Want athletic? How about a standing jump from 3-4 feet of water onto the deck of an in-ground swimming pool?

Now Wirfs gets to block for Brady, who has been in the NFL since Wirfs was a year old.

“It’s pretty crazy to think about," Wirfs said. “Tom Brady has been in the league since 2000, and I was born in 1999. He’s been in the league almost as long as I’ve been alive."

Related: NFL draft reaction: Everything seems to be falling the Bucs’ way these days

The Bucs looked to be in good shape for a tackle as Georgia’s Andrew Thomas went fourth overall to the New York Giants. Thomas was a favorite of many members of the Bucs coaching staff and maybe the most plug-and-play tackle.

Another tackle wasn’t taken until the Browns selected Jedrick Wills at No. 10. The Jets followed by nabbing Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton one pick later.

The Las Vegas Raiders went with Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs III at No. 12. When the 49ers were on the clock, there was some nervousness in the Bucs front office.

So the Bucs moved up one spot to select Wirfs.

“We saw that the run of tackles happened a little bit later than we expected, and then we thought there was a chance somebody would come up and get him," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. “We didn’t want to risk it. (Head coach) Bruce (Arians) says, ‘No risk it, no biscuit.’

“So, we had to give up a little capital to get him. But in this case, we thought because of the player, the position, but especially because of the player, it was worth it.”

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“We think he’s a versatile guy," Licht continued. “He started at both left and right tackle. He did a good job at both positions. The plan right now is to put him at right tackle. He’s an incredible athlete, but he still has a huge ceiling and a high floor. He’s a very good player, but I think he’s got a tremendous amount of upside as well.”

Iowa runs a pro-style offense and is known for sending offensive linemen to the NFL.

Arians said the team won’t rush Wirfs into the lineup. Developing offensive linemen is difficult enough, and the lack of an offseason program will make it even harder.

“I think one thing is not to force it," Arians said. “Let him come along at his pace. I think he’s coming from a program that is so similar to what we do, set-wise in pass protection and run-game wise. He’s extremely well-coached. So I think he’s ahead of the curve that way, and it should allow us to put him in the lineup when he’s ready. We’re not going to throw him out there until he’s ready."

Related: NFL draft was the coronavirus distraction that we needed

Wirfs said he had one Zoom call with the Bucs. He wasn’t sure where he would be drafted. He’s mostly a quiet big man who is very serious about his job. Wirfs had hoped to go to Las Vegas for the NFL draft before the coronavirus pandemic cancelled those plans.

Raised by a single mother, he did the next best thing. Wirfs rolled out a red carpet for his mother, Sarah, to their home in Iowa.

“It was a pretty special moment," Wirfs said. “When your phone starts vibrating, you kind of get like this wave of excitement and fear and all these emotions. Then the red carpet. That was a pretty special deal, just trying to give her a night kind of like Las Vegas. It wasn’t nearly as fancy. We just rolled the red carpet out of the front lawn and tried to make it nice for her."

What a week for the Bucs. What an offseason. Not only getting Brady, but trading for the rights to Rob Gronkowski and now landing the right tackle they needed.

Related: Bengals select LSU quarterback Joe Burrow No. 1 overall

“The moves that we made, they should be very excited," Licht said of Bucs fans. “How could you not be excited to have Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to go along with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard? The list goes on and on. We’re very excited about the players we’ve added to this team in the last year. There should be a lot of excitement in the air. I know I’m very excited."