TAMPA ― Tom Brady doesn’t have a seat in the Bucs’ war room for the NFL draft.
He hasn’t watched video or interviewed any of the 30 college players that have been paraded through AdventHealth Training Center the past few weeks.
But you’re mistaken if you think Brady won’t have a big impact on the Bucs’ draft beginning Thursday.
The quarterback is under contract for one more season. Upon announcing his decision to end his retirement on the eve of the start of free agency, he convinced most of the key players to re-sign with the team.
This pursuit is a little different.
It can take several years for a player to develop into an NFL starter, much less a star.
But with every selection, the Bucs need to find players who can help Brady win in 2022.
In other words, don’t buy the greenest bananas.
General manager Jason Licht was asked what, if anything, has changed about the Bucs’ draft preparation since Brady’s return.
“It changed maybe a little bit of how we went about free agency,” Licht said. “We had a lot of players that we wanted to bring back, which we were successful in doing.
“With the draft, I’ll be sitting here next year talking about it if we still try to take and force a need. We’ll be wishing that we drafted a different player if we didn’t respect our (draft) board. Now, we do have our board prepared for need and for best player. I say it every year — you want it where they collide, and you got the best player at a perceived need.”
Okay, so let’s talk about those perceived needs.
Um, how about any player who can help Brady right now?
A year ago, still basking in the glory of having won Super Bowl 55, the Bucs gazed a little too far into the future.
Tampa Bay selected Joe Tryon-Shoyinka with the 32nd overall pick. He had opted out of his final year at Washington and was only expected to be counted on as a rotational pass rusher behind Jason Pierre-Paul. But Pierre-Paul suffered a torn rotator cuff, and Tryon-Shoyinka was pressed into service more than was planned as a rookie.
Florida Gators quarterback Kyle Trask, the final pick of the second round, did not dress for a single game. That should be the case again this season, barring an injury to backup Blaine Gabbert.
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Notre Dame offensive lineman Robert Hainsey, the Bucs’ third-round pick, played 31 offensive snaps as a rookie, mostly after the issue had already been decided.
Jaelon Darden, a kick returner/receiver from North Texas, didn’t produce much either on offense or special teams. He had a 43-yard punt return against the Bears, but that was his lone highlight.
Linebackers K.J. Britt (fifth round) and Grant Stuart (seventh round)? Good special teams players, but they had no impact on defense.
In other words, in a year in which the Bucs were attempting to defend their NFL title, they drafted one impact player who had taken a year off and was forced into action by injury.
That cannot and should not happen again in this year’s draft.
The Bucs have done a pretty good job of addressing some of their biggest needs in free agency.
They lost guard Alex Cappa to the Bengals but traded for the Patriots’ Shaq Mason. All-Pro guard Ali Marpet surprised the Bucs by retiring at age 28. While Aaron Stinnie and Hainsey could hold up as starters, selecting a guard, such as Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green or Boston College’s Zion Johnson, in the first round would help Brady, who was hit 17 times in the division-round loss to the Rams.
“First of all, (I’m) very happy for Ali. He had an unbelievable career,” Licht said. “And it did (affect strategy) a little bit; that’s why we went and traded for Shaq Mason. And we feel really good about Aaron Stinnie having that playoff experience that he had when we won the Super Bowl..”
The next step may be drafting someone to block for Brady. How about someone to catch or run the football for him, too?
Receiver Chris Godwin is recovering from a torn ACL/MCL and may not be ready to start the season. The Bucs signed the Falcons’ Russell Gage as a free agent. But Darden was no factor last season. Both Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller disappeared from the lineup. Antonio Brown was released. Brady had to rely on a street free agent (Breshad Perriman) and 28-year-old practice squad receiver (Cyril Grayson) to win games.
Would the Bucs be wise to draft an explosive receiver such as former Plant High and North Dakota State star Christian Watson? Even if Rob Gronkowski returns, the Bucs have only two tight ends on the roster. Would a baby Gronk, like Colorado State’s Trey McBride help TB12? Even the running back position could use help beginning in the second round.
In another year, maybe the Bucs take a flier on Michigan defensive tackle David Ojabo, since he’s is sure to drop after tearing his ACL at the Wolverines’ pro day.
Not this year.
Brady won’t be in the draft room.
“No, he stays away. He trusts us,” Licht said. “That’s just not in his nature, anyway.”
But he’s trusting the Bucs to find him players who can help this year.
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