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Who’s No. 1? Bucs GM Licht not telling


The Sports Xchange

General manager Jason Licht knows everyone wants to know, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are preserving the drama surrounding the top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft for a few more days.

“If we had to pick today,” Licht said Monday at a press conference, “we’d feel very comfortable making the first pick.”

On the same day in which Newsday cited sources that the Buccaneers were listening to trade offers for the No. 1 pick, the drumbeat grew louder in Tampa on Monday that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will be selected first overall in 10 days.

Licht, who has publicly defended some of Winston’s so-called character concerns by questioning his immediate environment and peer group in Tallahassee, confirmed the team has a consensus favorite for the pick. Last month at the NFL Spring Meeting in Phoenix, head coach Lovie Smith identified Winston as the favorite.

Since then, Tampa Bay’s brass worked out Winston and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, and Winston was sued by the alleged victim of a sexual assault for which he was investigated but never charged. He also said the franchise is in “total agreement” on the player the team wants at No. 1.

“It’s huge. Personally, I think it’s probably the biggest draft in the history of the organization,” said Licht, who along with Smith is entering his second year on the job with the Bucs following a 2-14 clunker in 2014. “We’ve got a real chance to really put us over the top and get us to the level we think we’re going to be at this year, which we think is competing for a championship. It’s a great draft, and it’s a great draft to have the No. 1 pick.”

The Buccaneers released 2014 starting quarterback Josh McCown on Feb. 14 and Smith endorsed Mike Glennon as the team’s No. 1 quarterback in February.

Winston, 26-1 as a starter at Florida State, where he won the Heisman Trophy and national championship as a redshirt freshman, said he has matured and is prepared to be the face of a franchise.

The Bucs seem extremely comfortable with Winston as a player. As part of their investigation into Winston the person, the team invested hours working to dig into his past and communicated with friends, coaches and mentors who believe they know Winston best. Licht has said the results of those detailed fact-finding missions were overwhelmingly positive.

“We’re very confident in the amount of work we’ve done. Maybe 25 years from now I’ll write a book,” Licht said. “But we feel very confident in the amount of work we’ve done internally, we’ve had work done externally through third parties, and on and on. There have been no surprises.”

Winston spent two days at team headquarters in March, interviewing with the team and spending time with staff including coaches and ownership. The Buccaneers had a large presence at Winston’s pro day, where one telling moment was a warm embrace between Smith and Winston’s mother.

If the Buccaneers are blown away by a trade offer, it would be surprising to see the team slide too far down in the draft considering the need for game-changing players on the roster. Mariota is expected to be a top-five pick. The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner could go No. 2 to the Tennessee Titans or attract suitors via trade, including the New York Jets (sixth overall), Chicago Bears (seventh) and St. Louis Rams (10th).

The No. 1 overall pick has been traded only twice since 2000. Eli Manning in 2004 was drafted by the Chargers and dealt from San Diego to the New York Giants. In 2001, the Chargers traded the top pick to Atlanta. The Falcons selected Michael Vick and San Diego landed LaDainian Tomlinson fifth overall.

“Going back all the way to (the combine) we said we had a leader in the clubhouse, and we still do,” Licht said.

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