Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht gave one of his former first-round draft pick, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, a much-needed vote of confidence when addressing the media at the NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday. Before addressing Hargreaves, Licht was first asked about the cornerback position in the 2018 NFL Draft where the Bucs could have a chance at Alabama’s multi-purpose defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who can play safety, slot cornerback and outside cornerback.
“We always look for versatility at every position where that’s an asset,” Licht said. “The corners that can play both inside and outside, they come in handy, especially if they can play them both well. Those are players that every team values high. Some guys are really good outside, but can’t play inside. Some guys are really good inside, but can’t play outside. Some guys are a blend of both, and those guys have their value in this league.”
Licht said the Bucs are still high on Hargreaves and like the versatility he has as he started his second season playing outside, but after he struggled in the first couple of games he moved inside to slot corner where the team believes he thrived before a hamstring injury placed him on injured reserve.
Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves and S Chris Conte – Photo by: Getty Images
“We were very happy with Vernon in his rookie year,” Licht said. “We thought he was trending up. Last year he had a couple of setbacks. He would be the first to tell you that. By no means are we giving up on Vernon. He has a lot of talent. I thought at the end of the season before he got hurt and put on IR with his hamstring that he was showing glimpses of what he was his rookie year. Vernon fits that to us – he fits the definition of the guy that can do both.
“He actually enjoys playing inside just as much as outside. It’s not a situation where he’s telling us where he wants to play. He’ll do anything. I had a lot of positive conversations with Vernon at the end of the year and I’m excited where his mind is right now. I think he’s going to have a pretty good year this year.”
The Bucs struggled at the cornerback position where Hargreaves and fellow second-year cornerback Ryan Smith were targeted often and endured some growing pains, while veteran Brent Grimes missed three games due to a shoulder injury. The team wants to re-sign Grimes, who turns 35 in July, and is trying to work on a contract extension as he is slated to be an unrestricted free agent on March 14, but may be contemplating retirement. Grimes, a former Pro Bowler, tied for the team lead with three interceptions last year, and has seven interceptions and 35 pass breakups in his two years in Tampa Bay.
“Brent really has enjoyed his time in Tampa so far and we really like Brent and value Brent,” Licht said. “We would like to have Brent back.”
Regardless of whether the Bucs re-sign Grimes for another year or the team’s confidence in Hargreaves, adding more talented cornerbacks to the roster through free agency and the draft remains a priority of Licht, especially in the rugged NFC South division where Tampa Bay has to face Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton twice a year.