Jason Licht has to make a decision: Does he go for a home run or settle for a base on balls?
Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager went for the long ball and whiffed. Last year, he played cautiously, saving the Glazer family a lot of money, but perhaps missing out on a splashy move.
At 4 p.m. Wednesday when teams are officially allowed to sign free agents, Licht gets to step up to the plate again, albeit without Lovie Smith holding the bat as many claimed the former Bucs head coach did the last two seasons.
The clock started running for Licht when the season ended. He works for a franchise owned by the Glazer family that has not shown a lot of patience. The most successful NFL franchises are the ones that exercise patience. Perhaps the Glazers do not know this, but you can bet Licht does,
Pittsburgh has had three head coaches in 47 years and has won the most Super Bowls with six. Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and current head coach Mike Tomlin had rough stretches, but the organization stuck with them and won at least one Super Bowl with each.
Noll, who passed away in 2014, went 12-30 his first three years, but won four Super Bowls, the most of any coach. Not many owners possess the patience exhibited by the Rooney family, which owns the Steelers.
The shelf life of Bucs general managers is a little longer than coaches, but job security is also non-existent.
Licht spent a lot of the Glazers' money in free agency his first year, and didn't have a lot to show for it. Nothing will test an owner's patience more.
The Bucs' needs are many, but at the top of the list is an impact edge rusher and some defensive backs, particularly cornerbacks.
The retirement of offensive guard Logan Mankins creates another hole. If Doug Martin leaves there will be a need for a running back and the receiving corps has question marks as Vincent Jackson gets up in age and Mike Evans tries to shed his temper tantrums and hands
Licht's free-agent busts include Michael Johnson ($24 million guaranteed), Anthony Collins and Josh McCown.
Licht has had better luck in the draft.
"Our philosophy will be to build through the draft. That's where we'll get our stars," Licht has said. "We will supplement our roster through free agency. We're going to look for value, we're going to spend wisely. The better teams in the NFL that compete year after year are teams that draft best."
For teams seeking free agents, it's like running through a maze wearing blindfolds. You need to know why a team will not keep a player and how much his success has to do with his teammates.
An example of this was Dashon Goldson, who was signed by former Bucs GM Mark Dominik. He played with three all-pro linebackers in San Francisco, who covered his deficiencies. He was a bust with Tampa, though nobody should've been surprised.
Licht has shown better success at getting second-line players through free agency. There is also less risk and if a guy fails it doesn't break the bank, which would make any GM feel better.
Some teams have self-imposed budget restraints they will not change and a player's age cannot be overlooked. If a player performed poorly, but there were extenuating circumstances, he might be worth a gamble, but buyer beware.
If you can fill a position through the draft it's a lot cheaper and you get a younger player. With that in mind there are some good defensive ends available including five that could go the first round of the NFL draft.
Alan Dell, Herald sports columnist/writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports