Bucs’ general manager Licht off to good start in draft

by Gary Shelton on April 30, 2016 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Licht moved easily through three rounds of the draft.

Licht moved easily through three rounds of the draft.

Saturday, 5:30 a.m.

He traded down to get “the best pure cornerback in the draft.”

He stayed put to get “the best pass-rusher in the draft.”

He traded up to get “the best kicker in the draft.”

Many more moves like this, and the NFL might say that Jason Licht just might be the best general manager in the draft. And no wonder he's smiling.

The Bucs, behind Licht, are off to a flying start in the draft after picking Vernon Hargreaves, Noah Spence and Roberto Aguayo. Yes, there are risks with all of them. Heck, there are always risks, aren't there. But so far, it's been a satisfying draft. Possibly a turnaround draft.

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In particular, you have to like the way that Licht managed his picks. He wanted Hargreaves in the first, but he thought it was worth trading back two picks and picking up a fourth-round pick. He thought Spence was one of the best pass-rushers in the league, and he met with him enough to grow comfortable with Spence's former ecstasy addiction. He coveted kicker Roberto Aguayo and traded his third and the fourth he got in the Hargreaves trade.

It was head coach Dirk Koetter who passed out the superlatives, suggesting that Hargreaves, Spence and Aguayo were the best at what they do. Still, Licht was in control of this draft. It was a man guided by a script but willing to audible. It was bold. It was smart. It was calculated. Now, all the Bucs have to do is be right about the players they picked.

Yeah, yeah. The critics snipe at Hargreaves' height. They talk up Spence's drug problems. They think the second round was too soon to pull the trigger on Aguayo.

But think about this: If you have a conviction, isn't it Licht's job to move around and get those players? Evaluating is the first step. Obtaining the second. Coaching is the third.

“Dirk and I have talked about it,” Licht said. “It's like him on game days . You have a script. You have things you want to try to do. Different scenarios for different players.  There are players we want to move up for. These are players we can sit and wait for. You have to have a feel. You have to rely on your staff.

“If you love a player, you have to go up and get him.”

So give Licht credit for that. Some general managers might not have traded back before taking Hargreaves. After all, he was their guy. Some general managers might have traded up to get Spence if they loved him. After all, the run was on on defensive ends. Some general managers might not have given up two picks for a kicker. But after all, the Bucs are a team that needs more points. Aguayo will reduce the size of the field until the team is in scoring position.

“It’s been educational for me," Koetter said, "because I’ve never been in this position before and to watch him work — and when you see the pressure those guys are under when there’s trades moving around and you’re on a time clock and the world’s watching, I know as a play-caller you’ve got what your game plan is but when the pressure’s on and the clock’s running, it’s easy to abandon your script. Jason stayed true to the script, stayed true to what we wanted. I don’t think anyone can be too disappointed in Jason’s track record as a drafter so far. Certainly not me.”

Then, there was making the decisions on the players. Licht didn't worry that Hargreaves was short. He didn't worry that Spence had immaturity problems. He didn't worry about taking a kicker higher than most teams.

“We’ve done a lot of work on (Spence)," Licht said. "We’ve had him here, we’ve gone to visit him a couple times, and, yeah, we feel good. We feel good about him. He’s excited, we’re excited.

"If you feel comfortable and you feel good about it, then you can’t sentence a guy for life for some mistakes that he’s made in the past.”

You know the best draft the Bucs have ever had? It was back in 1995, when the team moved back to take Warren Sapp and moved up to get Derrick Brooks. That's not to say that this draft will have nearly the same impact, but Licht looked comfortable in the role of Rich McKay. That night, McKay and personnel director Tim Ruskell sat on the porch, smoked cigars and decided they had turned a franchise around. And they had.

This has a chance, just a chance, of having the same sort of impact.

In his short time here, Licht seems to have a gift for this draft thing. If the Bucs are correct on the players they took, or even close, then this franchise looks better. If Hargreaves starts, it makes the free agent signing of Brent Grimes look better. If Spence is the real deal, it makes the free agent signing of Robert Ayers better. And place kicker is a different deal.

"We were convinced that Spence was the best of all these rushers," Koetter said.. "Of all the people who talk pre-draft before we get involved, this was a draft filled with a lot of excellent rushers. Now, everybody’s going to have their own opinion of that. Our opinion was that he was the best of those rushers."

It's funny. At One Bucs, all roads go through Jameis Winston. Think about it. Winston played against Hargreaves. He knew Spence from the recruiting trail. He played with Aguayo.

"Jameis’ opinion of those (players) helped," Licht said. "But I’m not ready to name him assistant GM/quarterback yet. Not yet.”

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Rick Martin April 30, 2016 at 8:26 pm

I liked that Winston is giving his endorsement of some of these picks. He’s really developed into a leader and good face to the organization. We had our doubts after those college incidents – but things look very positive that he’s headed in the right direction. As far as Aguayo, I was initially sickened to read about the pick but the rationale and remembering last season’s struggles at the position makes it seem like a good move.

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Gary Shelton April 30, 2016 at 11:20 pm

Personally, I liked the pick. I looked at the other players available,and while I’m not draft guru, I didn’t see names that screamed off the page. I think Agayo will win games for this team. I think he’ll be Pro Bowls. For crying out loud, think of some of the stiffs the Bucs have drafted in the second round. (More on this in tomorrow’s column.)

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