Licht hopes to lead the Bucs out of the darkness

by Gary Shelton on April 26, 2018 · 4 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs


Licht is on the point for the Lightning franchise..

Thursday, 4 a.m.

In this particlular War Room, he is Mars.

Jason Licht sits at the head of the table, and once again, he tries to steer the ship in the proper direction. He is the general manager, and he does his heaviest lifting in the off-season, in the free agency chase, in the draft maneuvers.

It it his job, as much as anyone's, to turn the Bucs from a last-place franchise into one that matters again.

Four years in, and how is he doing?

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Oh, the truth of it is that there are a lot of answers, because the franchise that Licht joined back in 2014 had so many holes it could pass for the car driven by Bonnie and Clyde. Honestly, I think this roster is better than that one. But is it good enough, or is Licht about to conduct his last draft in charge of the Bucs?

Certainly, you can make the argument that another subpar test will tax the patience of the Glazers to a breaking point. Most of the odds-makers don't expect much from the Bucs this season, and the team's owners are not not most patient collective out there.

For now, Licht sits at the head of the table, however. The blueprint is still his. The final decisions are his.

That said,  most of us would have to admit that Licht's results are a mixed bag. Few are perfect when it comes to getting players, even those general managers who need to be perfect.

Licht's first free agent class -- coach Lovie Smith shared in the wreckage -- featured Anthony Collins and Michael Johnson and Josh McCown. Lovie made paper airplanes out of contracts and sailed them to the four corners of the league. That ended up looking horrible for everyone.

Still, the Bucs drafted Mike Evans that year, who was a keeper.  But they also drafted Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a noted knucklehead. They drafted Kevin Pamphlile, who was of some use, but they drafted Kadeem Edwards, who was of none.

The 2015 draft was a good one with still-promising Jameis Winston (no, he isn't accomplished), Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. The late rounds didn't go well, but a lot of late rounds don't.

The next year wasn't very good, however. Vernon Hargreaves has barely hung on as a defensive back, and Noah Spence can't stay healthy. The team traded up to take Roberto Aguayo, one of the worst decisions in the history of history, Think of Hargreaves as the Roberto Aguayo of corners. The team picked a couple of not-awful players in Ryan Smith and Caleb Benenoch, but nether are difference-makers.

In 2017, the Bucs drafted fairly well. They fair-caught a falling O.J. Howard, and they took Justin Evans and Chris Godwin and Kendell Beckwith, all of who can play. Stevie Tu'ikolovatu has a chance.

Ah, but now it's 2018, and observers will tell you that the Bucs need a running back, and a corner, and an offensive lineman, and a safety, and maybe another defensive lineman. They need to be tougher. They need to be smarter. They need to be more efficient.

Look, it isn't all up to Licht. Winston needs to be more careful with the ball, for one thing. DeSean Jackson needs to be a weapon. The secondary needs to douse the flames.

But if there is going to be a difference this year, it will be because of Licht. Already, he has brought in Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry and Beau Allen.

You imagine Licht as he goes into this draft. He is probably hopeful, because a lot of mocks lately have had running back Saquon Barkley falling to him. Barkley would be the perfect draft pick for this team, a combination of impact and need. Yes, there are those who warn against taking a running back high, but that's where the great ones live. Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson and Walter Payton, those kinds of guys. You may find serviceable backs in the  the second round, but not the great backs that this team has almost-always lacked.

I think Licht would like Barkley more than anyone. But that means a lot of teams have to pass on him. I can't believe that happens. I don't believe, without a third-round draft pick, the Bucs can afford to trade up for him.

Licht is probably looking at the occasional game-tape of Bradley Chubb, even though he signed two defensive ends in free agency. Again, Chubb is liable to be gone.

If those two or gone -- and maybe guard Quenton Nelson -- I think the Bucs will be torn between FSU safety Derwin James and trading backward to pick up a third-round pick. Safety isn't a most important position for a football team and, besides, James (or Minkah Fitzpatrick) may still be there if the team can trade back to 12 or 13.

In other words, these are the questions that Licht has to face:

Barkley or someone else in the field who can have as much impact?

James or Fitzpatrick?

Trading back or staying put?

Trading back for James or another player like defensive tackle Vita Vea?

The thing is, the quarterbacks of the draft may help here. At No. 7, the Bucs are in perfect position to entice a team that is interested in Josh Rosen or Lamar Jackson, the second wave of quarterbacks.

As of now, it's all in Licht's hands. He is the dealer. He is the pilot. He is leader of the wagon train.

All he has to be is perfect.

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