As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepare for their season opener against the Minnesota Vikings, the biggest topic surrounding the team isn’t the game itself — instead, it’s the future of franchise wide receiver Mike Evans.
It’s no secret that Evans is seeking a new contract as he enters the final year of his five-year, $82.5 million deal that he signed back in 2018. However, the 30-year-old receiver has yet to receive a contract offer, according to his agent, Deryk Gilmore.
As Evans’ self-imposed deadline to negotiate a new contract nears on Saturday, no deal has been reached.
While the two sides are clearly at an impasse, the Buccaneers reportedly don’t want to trade Evans, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
“The Bucs do not want to trade Mike Evans,” reported Fowler on Thursday. “His agent, Deryk Gilmore, set a Saturday deadline for extending his contract, but Evans, a 2024 free agent, would have strong value on the trade market around the deadline, according to multiple execs I asked. He just turned 30 but is still considered elite.”
Fowler continues to report that both sides want to see Evans end his career as a member of the Buccaneers.
“He’s a name to watch if Saturday comes and goes without a deal,” says Fowler. “Both sides want to see Evans retire a Buccaneer, but this is a team in transition, and Tampa Bay has young core players to sign, including safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and left tackle Tristan Wirfs.”
While both sides may hope to see Evans retire as a Buccaneers, the more likely scenario is this — no deal getting done and Tampa Bay trading Evans during the season before the deadline on October 31.
Despite entering his age-30 season, Evans remains as consistent as they get. The 10th-year receiver is coming off of his ninth consecutive 1,000-yard season, an NFL record to start out a career. If he posts another 1,000-yard season in 2023, he would tie Randy Moss for the second-most 1,000-yard seasons in a wide receiver’s career.
While his production at this stage isn’t a concern, his contract wishes, his age and the Buccaneers’ lack of salary cap space is.
According to Rick Stroud of The Tampa Bay Times, Evans is believed to be seeking a deal that pays him the same as the Los Angeles Rams’ Cooper Kupp.
“Evans is believed to be seeking a deal similar to the three-year, $80.1 million contract signed by Rams receiver Cooper Kupp that included $75 million guaranteed and a $20 million signing bonus,” writes Stroud.
That type of contract would pay Evans nearly $27 million per year and make him the third-highest paid wide receiver on an average annual basis in the NFL.
Considering Evans will be 31 years old next season and the fact that Tampa Bay is already paying another receiver — Chris Godwin — $20 million per year, that’s simply not a very realistic scenario.
Evans is understandably seeking security. The next contract he signs will be his last big-money deal.
“Obviously we’ve been working with them for over a year now, trying to get something done,” said Evans. “Any player in my position would want to be secure.”
The problem is, the Buccaneers are paying the bill for going all-in during Tom Brady’s three years in Tampa Bay. The cost of signing notable players to big deals is now coming up to bite the Buccaneers, with Tampa Bay owing $75 million in dead money, tops in the NFL.
To top it all off, the Buccaneers enter the 2023 season with Baker Mayfield as the starting quarterback, as he plays on his fourth team in a little over a year.
Rather than contending this season, the more likely scenario sees Tampa Bay finish the year as one of the worst teams in the NFL and as one of the top candidates to land USC’s Caleb Wiliams in next year’s draft.
With the Buccaneers heading into a rebuild, Evans’ talents would be best served on a playoff contender one piece away from being a possible Super Bowl contender. Teams such as the New York Jets or New York Giants are possible landing spots.
Both sides may truly desire an outcome that sees Evans continue his career with the Buccaneers. But the more logical scenario sees Tampa Bay unload Evans to a playoff contender while receiving draft capital to help build the team back up as it recovers from dead money cap hits incurred as a result of the Brady era.