For Bucs, GM Jason Licht now is on the NFL draft clock

“I will get judged. It’s just the way it is. You can’t look at it that way. You just have to look forward,” says Jason Licht.
“I will get judged. It’s just the way it is. You can’t look at it that way. You just have to look forward,” says Jason Licht.
Published May 1, 2014

His in-box is full, fresh from the reimagining of a franchise. And yes, people seem to love the additions. Michael Johnson. Josh McCown. Alterraun Verner. Anthony Collins. Evan Dietrich-Smith.

His out-box is full, fresh from the culling of money and manpower. Together, they won only four games, so people can live with subtractions. Darrelle Revis. Mike Williams. Donald Penn. Davin Joseph. Jeremy Zuttah.

Yes, it has been a busy offseason for Jason Licht, the new sheriff in charge of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who spent his first few months in town swapping this guy for that guy. Pretty much, Licht took the franchise by the lapels and shook hard.

For Licht, however, this is the most important time.

For Licht, this is the point where his legacy will be judged.

For an NFL general manager, the draft is the essential time of year. Yes, free agent pickups can fill holes and trades can bolster teams, but the draft is the lifeblood of a franchise. It keeps a team young. It keeps a team fresh. It keeps a team deep.

More than coaches, more than players, this is where the team's previous general managers have gotten lost.

Mark Dominik? He couldn't pick fruit in an orchard. Granted, his job was complicated by the fact Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano seemed at odds as to what a player looked like, but Dominik spent years looking in vain for someone who could play. Josh Freeman. Brian Price. Da'Quan Bowers.

Bruce Allen? He was locked in a dark room, throwing darts at a draft board. The Bucs never had a chance. Michael Clayton. Dexter Jackson. Gaines Adams.

Even Rich McKay, who built a Super Bowl team here, had his struggles in a lot of drafts. Reidel Anthony. Kenyatta Walker. Regan Upshaw.

And, now, it is Licht's turn to reveal himself as a contestant on the NFL's big talent grab. To most of us, what Licht does will determine who he is.

"I don't look at it that way,'' Licht said. "Our staff, we work in unison, work together. I actually think when a draft pick or an undrafted free agent exceeds their expectations and you feel like you've hit, I think sometimes the general manager or the head coach get falsely glorified for it when it's really the scouts who have done, in a lot of cases, most of the work on it.

"I will get judged. It's just the way it is. You can't look at it that way. You just have to look forward. I'm sure (the media) will write about whether these players are good or not for the next couple of years. That's the way it is. I'm expecting it.''

The thing is, Bobby Beathard, the old Redskins general manager, had scouts. So did George Young, the former Giants general manager. All of the major talent evaluators have help.

In the end, however, one guy will be responsible for the ultimate decision. He'll help turn a franchise around, or he'll help keep it down. That's the job.

Granted, there are a lot of ways that Licht can go.

He can trade up (although it doesn't appear the Bucs have the surplus draft picks to do so). He can trade back (and pick up a quarterback, wide receiver or tight end while getting extra picks). He can stay put and make the decision between a receiver or a quarterback (probably).

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Or, if Licht wants to get really creative, he can do what McKay did during his first draft back in 1995. You remember that, right?

That year, the Bucs also had the No. 7 draft choice. But on the day of the draft, they traded it to Philadelphia for the No. 12 pick and two second-round picks. Philadelphia took the ultimately disappointing Mike Mamula; the Bucs moved back five spots and settled for eventual Hall of Famer Warren Sapp.

Then using the extra second-round picks, the Bucs moved back up into the first round to take eventual Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks. No other Hall of Famers went in the first round that day.

Yeah, if Licht can do that, he'll work out just fine.

The thing is that as bad as they have needed it, the Bucs have never drafted particularly well. Every year, they go into the draft hoping for answers, and every year, they find more that is questionable.

Yes, they got an A-plus with their first ever pick in Lee Roy Selmon, and they got A-pluses with Sapp and Brooks. There are a few scattered A's in Paul Gruber and Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott. Except for those, however, most of the players have been helpers on a franchise that was beyond help. That or outright disappointments.

Which brings us back to Licht and the many directions he can address with the team here. He can take a quarterback (especially if Johnny Manziel slips). He can take a wide receiver. He can take a tight end (although that might be a tad high). If he's pushed, he could do worse than an offensive tackle.

Say this for Licht. He has an easy way about him, and his kidding around with coach Lovie Smith suggests there is real chemistry there. Good. Turning this franchise around is going to take all the cohesion one could imagine.

The thing is, the Bucs need to be right on this. You can argue safe and you can argue solid and you can argue speed and you can argue strength. Whatever, but the Bucs can't afford to fizzle on this pick.

In the first draft he has ever spearheaded, you get the feeling Licht knows what is at stake. The Bucs need help, and he's the guy in charge of hiring. Missing is not allowed.

No pressure, Jason.

All it means is everything.