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Bucs have flexibility and ‘luxury’ with 32nd overall pick, GM Jason Licht says

The Bucs even can afford to use their first-round pick on a developmental guy, the veteran GM said.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht celebrates with fans immediately following the team's Super Bowl victory boat parade along the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa in February.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht celebrates with fans immediately following the team's Super Bowl victory boat parade along the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa in February. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Apr. 1
Updated Apr. 1

Unlike his head coach and a number of his players, Bucs general manager Jason Licht has abstained from commemorating the franchise’s latest Super Bowl triumph with a tattoo.

“I have nothing against tattoos,” Licht said Thursday. “I think (Arians’) is cool as hell. ... I didn’t get one.”

Similarly, the current toast of Tampa Bay sports executives doesn’t necessarily have to leave a permanent, profound mark on the 2021 NFL draft. Would he like to do so in a positive way? Of course. But with a team that returns all 22 of its starters and its three top specialists, it simply isn’t necessary.

With the 32nd overall pick, the Bucs can draft a developmental guy, pursue depth instead of immediate impact, or even trade it.

Licht loves the flexibility.

“It is a really good feeling this year that literally just about any player at any position, we could take,” Licht said during a Thursday morning Zoom session with reporters that coincided with the virtual NFL meetings. “I guess I’ll say I won’t take a kicker. But yeah, liberating is probably a very good word.”

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In conventional years, Licht indicated, over-emphasizing positions of need can lead to draft mistakes. Arguably the greatest example of that locally was his decision to draft FSU all-American kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round in 2016.

And to be sure, some positions could feature glaring holes as early as 2022. The defensive front seven, featuring 32-year-old Jason Pierre-Paul and 34-year-old Ndamukong Suh, is getting no younger. With speedster Ronald Jones II in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract and veteran Leonard Fournette on a one-year deal, some vacancies also could arise in the backfield.

Licht acknowledges the team must take a long-view at certain positions. But they don’t have to pigeonhole themselves into one spot.

“Of course in the perfect world, you’d want to pick players that come in and help and contribute right away,” Licht said.

“But we do have the luxury of having guys sit back and learn from and watch and get developed by our coaching staff and veteran players. ... We’ve said it over and over, we have a great locker room. These guys are going to embrace anybody that we take at any position.”

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Licht also downplayed any suggestions the franchise mortgaged its future in re-signing nearly all its prominent free agents, echoing a similar statement made Wednesday by owner/co-chairman Joel Glazer. At this point, veteran receiver Antonio Brown is the team’s most significant unsigned free agent, but those negotiations remain at a standstill.

“It’s all about winning championships, so we want to give it our best shot,” Glazer said. “But we definitely have an eye to the future. We do not believe that we’re causing terrible problems in the future.”

Bucs general manager Jason Licht, left, talks with quarterback Tom Brady (12) during a break in the action at training camp last September.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht, left, talks with quarterback Tom Brady (12) during a break in the action at training camp last September. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The team has implemented “voidable years” in a number of its new contracts (a way for teams to spread a signing bonus over multiple years, possibly increasing their future cap burden), but Licht said many teams did so in the wake of a global pandemic and lower salary cap in 2021 ($182.5 million).

“There are some corrections that are going to have to take place at some point down the road, but we’re not putting ourselves in a position where next year we have to release a lot of good players,” Licht said.

“We’re going to be in good shape if we continue to just make sure that we make smart decisions and do things right. We’re going to be competing for years to come.”

Licht also indicated quarterback Tom Brady continues rehabbing well from an offseason “cleanup” procedure on his left knee.

“I talked to him last week; I know things are going well,” Licht said. “I don’t want to put an exact timeline on it right now because I don’t want to set expectations one way or the other, but I know that things are going very well.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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