TAMPA — Another busy offseason. Another first round of the NFL draft. Another interesting night.
And, through it all, Bucs general manager Jason Licht has looked pretty darn good.
He spent the past couple of months patching his offensive line, sprucing up his defensive line and bringing in Jason Pierre-Paul to chew up and spit out opposing quarterbacks.
Then came Thursday and the first round of the draft.
It could have been a mess and Licht made it a success. Well, at least on paper. He did everything a smart general manager is supposed to do on the most important night of the year for any franchise.
He made a big trade that, again on paper, looked great. He made a first-round pick that looks solid. It will take a few games and maybe even a few seasons to see how that plays out.
But give Licht credit. After a productive offseason, it seems as if had a pretty good night Thursday.
All the top guys he really, really wanted were long gone by the time it was his turn to pick. So he deftly swapped first-round picks, picked up a couple of second-round picks and still took a guy he liked an awful lot: Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea.
He made lemonade out of lemons.
Licht added a piece to a defense that sure could use some pieces. Although, referring to the 350-pound Vea as a "piece'' probably isn't quite accurate. He's more like a mountain. Anyway, Licht didn't overreach for Vea. He didn't pass on another more obvious pick. (Sorry, Derwin James was not a more obvious pick.)
"We think he's a great fit here,'' Licht said of Vea.
All things considered, give Licht a pat on the back. There's reason to think there might be hope at the end of what has been a very long and dark tunnel.
If you happen to believe the most important players on your team are the ones who line up closest to the football, Licht certainly has helped his team this offseason. This sure feels like a better team than the one that walked off the field in 2017.
"I can't put into words, but very, very good, much better,'' Licht said when asked about how he felt about this team. "Especially when you're filling in the trenches.''
Hey, Licht has earned his paycheck this offseason and he still has two more draft days to keep the improvement going.
But in the spirit of the NFL draft, who is on the clock now?
Uh, that would be Licht. Followed by Bucs coach Dirk Koetter.
This is it. This is when things need to turn around. No more excuses. No more talk of futures and rebuilding.
The time is now. The Bucs have been also-rans long enough. Time to take the next step.
No, I'm not talking about winning the Super Bowl. I'm not even talking about making the Super Bowl.
But I am talking a marked improvement. How about the playoffs? How about a winning record?
How about some signs this team is getting better?
This is Licht's fifth NFL draft as general manager. This is Koetter's third season as head coach. And while we're listing important people and the number of years they've been here, this will be Jameis Winston's fourth year as quarterback.
Isn't that enough to time to turn this thing around? Even if Licht took over a franchise that was a complete junkyard left behind by GM Mark Dominik and head coach Greg Schiano? Even if Koetter was taking over for the overmatched Lovie Smith? Even if Winston was taking over for the unforgettable Josh McCown?
Shouldn't three or four or five years be enough time to show some signs of life in a league that goes out of its way to help teams crawl out of the grave?
Licht has done some good things. He has drafted some good players, guys such as Mike Evans, Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Kwon Alexander, O.J. Howard and, depending on how you feel about Winston.
Koetter went a respectable 9-7 as a rookie coach.
And Winston? Some see greatness. Some see inconsistency. Some see trouble. But no matter what you see, know this: the Bucs are married to Winston. So it's his team.
But, more than anyone else, Licht will get his share of credit if the team plays well and the most of the blame if the team does not. That's fair. Five seasons is a big enough sample size.
How will this all turn out? We shall see. But Licht has certainly done all he can to make sure the Bucs get good and stay good for a long time.
And that he remains in charge of it all for a long time.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones