NFL draft clue: Check out the Bucs GM's mentors

Jason Licht has worked for six organizations in 18 years, with names such as Don Shula, bottom left, and Andy Reid.
Jason Licht has worked for six organizations in 18 years, with names such as Don Shula, bottom left, and Andy Reid.
Published May 7, 2014

TAMPA — Rumors were flying Tuesday that the Bucs were the team trying to trade up from No. 7 overall to the Rams' spot at No. 2 in the NFL draft.

Jason Licht, less than two days from having to make his first selection as the Bucs' general manager, smiled when confronted with the chatter.

The Bucs have a need for a receiver and offensive lineman, and Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins or Auburn tackle Greg Robinson are projected as top five selections.

But the real buzz of the draft has surrounded Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, a player who "impressed'' the Bucs with his workout, visit and football IQ.

Licht knows the most scrutiny a GM or head coach can face is after selecting a franchise quarterback in the first round. The failure rate is about 50 percent and there is no Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning among this collection.

But given his extensive background as a scout and front office executive for the Dolphins, Panthers, Patriots, Eagles and Cardinals, Licht isn't lacking for confidence.

"Well, I don't say it scares me," he said of taking a quarterback in the first round. "No, they don't (grow on trees). As much as we think we feel like we'll need one in the future, that it will be easy to get, it's not. (Cardinals coach) Bruce Arians is a man I respect on many, many levels both professionally and personally. His motto has always been 'No risk it, no biscuit.' "

Licht, 43, has worked tirelessly preparing for Thursday's first round, poring over film with first-year coach Lovie Smith and setting up the draft board.

But the hard work is nothing compared with the hours he spent readying himself for this moment, working up from a scouting intern making $500 per month with the Dolphins, to a full-time scout (Panthers) regional, then national scout until he climbed the ladder to assistant director of player personnel (Patriots, Eagles) then director and vice president of player personnel (Cardinals).

Six organizations in 18 years, working under people such as Don Shula, Jimmy Johnson, George Seifert, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Tom Heckert, Andy Reid, Steve Keim and Arians. It all culminated with his hiring as Bucs GM in January.

"It's really cool, man. I have to check myself," Licht said. "I'm not going to change everything. I always go over stuff with Lovie and I explain things to the guys. But it's pretty cool. It's fun."

Nobody knows exactly what the Bucs will do when they are on the clock Thursday night. Making a move from No. 7 to No. 2 might be cost prohibitive and likely mortgage a chunk of next year's draft.

Licht isn't giving away clues. But something might be learned from the stops Licht has made in his career and from the coaches and GMs who have influenced him.

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"I was just an intern with Jimmy (Johnson) but you couldn't help but soak in the wheeling and dealing,'' he said. "He loved the whole draft picks are currency.

"I was in the war room, at Carolina, too. Seifert was more methodical, very laid-back, very consensus oriented. With Belichick, it was understanding the value of a player. … Andy Reid is like your favorite uncle. He's the best. With him, he just had a trust in his assistants. Last season with the Cardinals, it was about total cohesiveness."

Some other things about Licht's preferences may be gleaned from where he worked.

Licht has rarely worked for teams with a pick this high. The Cardinals took guard Jonathan Cooper last year at No. 7 overall (he missed the year with an injury). Before that, Licht had not worked for a team that had a pick higher than No. 13 overall since 2001, when the Patriots drafted defensive tackle Richard Seymour with the sixth pick.

He also is a big believer in building an offensive line. The clubs Licht worked for have taken 24 offensive linemen in the last 10 drafts.

"The Bucs haven't picked an O-lineman since '09," Licht said. "The fifth round? Xavier Fulton. I think there's something that can be said for that. I think the 49ers are a good example of a team that took a lineman in the first round. A couple years later they took two more linemen in the first round and away they go."

Smith has never drafted a quarterback higher than 106th overall. The highest a quarterback has been drafted by a team Licht worked for was in 2007 when the Eagles selected Kevin Kolb in the second round.

"The way to build is front to back for offense, too," Licht said. "And the quarterback does slide up right behind center."

Gentlemen, start your rumors.