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How Gronk, Ndamukong Suh could affect the Bucs draft

The Pro Bowl tight end and defensive tackle remain unsigned, making those positions seemingly among the Bucs’ biggest needs.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht isn't closing the door on bringing back Ndamukong Suh, and obviously the Bucs will welcome back Rob Gronkowski if decides to keep playing. But the draft is the focus for now.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht isn't closing the door on bringing back Ndamukong Suh, and obviously the Bucs will welcome back Rob Gronkowski if decides to keep playing. But the draft is the focus for now. [ RACHEL WEST | Times ]
Published Apr. 19|Updated Apr. 19

TAMPA — If there are some clues about areas of need for the Bucs heading into next week’s NFL draft, it’s in the free agents that have yet to re-sign with the team.

Specifically, Rob Gronkowski and Ndamukong Suh.

Also, throw in one who has stayed retired in Pro Bowl guard Ali Marpet.

While Gronkowski could simply be waiting until the Bucs offseason workout program is over before reuniting with Tom Brady, Suh openly lobbied on Twitter to rejoin the team shortly after defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was named head coach.

“Congrats to Todd Bowles on becoming head coach of a great team that still feel one man light on talent,” Suh tweeted.

In his pre-draft news conference, general manager Jason Licht said Tuesday that the Bucs will have to keep a focus on the tight end, defensive tackle and offensive guard positions while not reaching for a player just to fill a need.

“No, you have to pay attention to that (tight end) position,” Licht said. “...(But) you don’t want to push a player up just because, like right now, at this very moment, it looks like a perceived need. You want to take them at the right spot.

“There are opinions at certain positions that haven’t really come about yet. There could be some things that we’re thinking about doing at some point, so I just use the word ‘perceived.’ Everybody has got an opinion.”

If the Bucs don't bring back Ndamukong Suh, it seems likely they'll be looking for a defensive tackle in the draft.
If the Bucs don't bring back Ndamukong Suh, it seems likely they'll be looking for a defensive tackle in the draft. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

For now what the Bucs have is the 27th overall pick in next Thursday’s draft.

If they don’t make an early move, Tampa Bay could be waiting around four hours before a selection.

“Mostly sitting and waiting,” Licht said. “And eating, unfortunately.”

Of course, Licht has been very active with respect to trades on draft days since joining the team as GM under Lovie Smtih in 2014.

Licht has made a total of 13 trades, moving up nine times while trading back four times. He also dealt picks for selections in future years, although he has done so for nothing higher than a fifth-round pick.

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The most memorable move came in 2018 when the Bucs traded the seventh overall pick to the Buffalo Bills for two second-rounders (Nos. 53 and 56) to move down five spots to select Vita Vea No. 12 overall.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Bucs first-round pick Vita Vea are all smiles on a past draft day.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Bucs first-round pick Vita Vea are all smiles on a past draft day. [ DAVID J. PHILLIP | Associated Press ]

Incidentally, the Bills used the Bucs’ seventh overall choice to draft quarterback Josh Allen. The Bucs, of course, were still developing Jameis Winston at the time.

“The year that we took Vita and we traded back, you could hear a pin drop in the draft room, crossing our fingers that Vita was going to last until 12 and once he did, the place kind of erupted a little bit,” Licht said. “That’s one I will never forget.”

While Marpet’s retirement took the Bucs by surprise, they recovered a bit by trading for Patriots guard Shaq Mason. They still have an opening at guard after losing Alex Cappa to the Bengals in free agency. However, Licht said Tuesday that could be filled by either Aaron Stinnie or Robert Hainsey.

The Bucs had two premier defensive tackles in for top 30 player visits: Georgia’s Devonte Wyatt and Houston’s Logan Hall.

Bowles will have an added voice in the Bucs’ draft room to go along with Bruce Arians in his new front office role.

“The philosophy hasn’t changed, it’s just been meeting more with Todd now as the head coach, more one-on-one and some more in group settings, too,” Licht said. “Bruce is still involved. He’s been in our meetings. I meet with Bruce periodically and he’s going to be involved here as I put the final touches on our draft, too. Our philosophy hasn’t changed. We still want to bring in really good players.

“I’ve always had a really good relationship with Todd going back to our Arizona season together. But he’s just got a lot of insight. We’ve never really talked about offensive players and adding them to our team. It’s always been about defensive players with him and it’s been great to get his insight as a defensive expert on offensive players.”

As for Gronkowski and Suh, well, their situations may become clearer after the draft.

“It’s always fluid, adding players to our roster,” Licht said. “It doesn’t have to be during free agency. Right now we’re focused on the draft. There’s a lot of time in between after the draft and when the season starts.”

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