The New Era Pillars

June 23rd, 2017


There are building blocks and there are cornerstones. And make no mistake, there are millions of dollars in between.

Donovan Smith and Vernon Hargreaves are building blocks. Mike Evans, Jameis Winston and Kwon Alexander are cornerstones, special players who will lead you where you want to go.

Evans, the first draft pick turned in by Jason Licht as Bucs GM, has emerged as a superstar after three seasons.

He was the best Tampa Bay player in 2016, perhaps by a wide margin, and he should be even more dangerous with DeSean Jackson on the other side — even if some of his numbers decrease.

Evans, who doesn’t turn 24 until August, could be in line to become the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver. He topped all wideouts last year by generating 81 first downs, 15 more than runner-up T.Y. Hilton, and he scored 12 touchdowns.

All things considered, I don’t believe the Bucs would trade Evans for any receiver in the league.

Larry Fitzgerald will be 34 in August and Jordy Nelson is 32. Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant and A.J.Green are all 28. Odell Beckham Jr., selected in the same 2014 draft as Evans, is bursting with talent but appears to be a head case.

When Winston found out Evans was ranked 29th on the NFL Network’s Top 100 list, he just shook his head.

“I feel he should be in the Top 10,” said Winston. “How much he means to me and this team is indescribable. He’s an amazing player but I’m happy for him. I’m happy that he is a Top 100 player but to me, he’s the No. 1 guy. He’s the best receiver in the league. Julio Jones is going to be placed probably before him, but Mike is every bit of Julio.”

A Pro’s Pro

As a young, developing player, Evans has already shown the willingness to hold himself to a high standard. His sheer numbers in 2015 were impressive on the surface, but he knew he dropped too many footballs in Winston’s rookie season.

So he went out and did something about it, focusing on his concentration and refining his technique.

That’s called being a pro’s pro. That’s called looking at the man in the mirror.

That’s called leadership.

“Two years ago, Mike had a 1,000-plus-yard season but he also had too many drops,” said Dirk Koetter. “He really brought his drop number down. Mike is a guy that the defense has to honor, and a lot of defenses that we see, they double him.

“Mike’s confidence is at an all-time high. Two years ago, I didn’t think he and Jameis had great chemistry between them – I’m not talking about as people, just on the field – and that’s come so far.”

The Bucs already exercised their fifth-year option on Evans and there’s no way he’ll reach free agency in 2019. It won’t be long before he and Beckham set new salary standards for the position.

The one legitimate criticism of Evans through three seasons is he has only seven receptions of 40 yards or more. He needs to be better after the catch and Winston needs to throw a better deep ball.

Jackson’s presence should open things up a bit for No. 13.

“I’m not taking away any credit from the past receivers of my time, but I think Mike is obviously a freak of nature,” Jackson says. “He is a very physical receiver who can still get down the field and make some big plays. Just having that combination with a speedy guy and a bigger guy, it’s going to be interesting to see how it goes during the season. I’m excited about that … and I know he is as well.”

Buc Ball Is Dead

You could make a compelling case that given Winston’s age and potential, the Bucs wouldn’t trade him for any young quarterback in the league — including Derek Carr and Dak Prescott.

Pay Kwon, says Ira.

And don’t forget about the value of Kwon Alexander. Given Luke Kuechly’s concussion issues, Alexander may have the biggest upside of any inside linebacker in the NFL.

Winston, Evans and Alexander, 22, are in the front lines of a new era of Buccaneer football. This isn’t Buc Ball, when almost all the significant talent was on one side of the field.

If the additions of Jackson and rookie O.J. Howard trigger the most productive attack in franchise history, Evans will be in the thick of the action.

Evans and Winston will soon be wealthy beyond their wildest dreams as the Glazers open up checkbooks to keep them employed at One Buc Place.

Buc fans say bring it on. That’s the price of doing business if you want to chase the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Cornerstones are expensive.

Pay the man.

Ira Kaufman, the most beloved and esteemed columnist in town, has hung his hat at world headquarters since July 2016. Tampa Bay’s only Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, Ira’s columns pop here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his award winning podcasts fire Tuesdays and Thursdays.

21 Responses to “The New Era Pillars”

  1. Bucsfanman Says:

    Well put. “The price of doing business” if you want to win. Evans is worth every penny and then some.

  2. rayjay1122 Says:

    Another solid piece of work by Ira. Thanks for what you do and at the level in which you do it!!!

  3. Pickgrin Says:

    Won’t be long before OJ Howard will force his way onto that growing “cornerstone” list. I’d wager that Spence will make a run for it as well. Jason Licht is killing it in the draft.

    And regarding the receivers – DJax said it well – “having that combination with a speedy guy and a bigger guy, it’s going to be interesting…”

  4. theodore Says:

    Winston, Evans, DJax, Brate, OJ – Yeah, it doesn’t matter who the RB is. Any and all RBs will thrive.

  5. Buc4Lyfe79 Says:

    “Buc Ball is dead.” What is this nonsense? If this team lives up to anywhere near it’s actual potential this season, players health providing; “Buc Ball” will be far from “Dead.” GO BUCS!!!

  6. gotbbucs Says:

    The sky is the limit for this group. There really is no reason to have anything but enormous expectations for this team right now. Unless the wheels absolutely fall off and some major career ending injuries happen, this team should be a Super Bowl contending team in the near future and beyond.
    I’m nervous as hell….but so excited at the same time.

  7. Tom Edrington Says:

    Evans contract and Jameis’ contract will bust the bank, those will be two huge deals…..

  8. Negative Jeff Says:

    Ira is the Best. Best sports writer in Tampa Bay, Best Bucs themed Podcast in Tampa Bay. When I want to hear/read intelligent Bucs’ talk, it’s Ira that I turn to.

  9. Ben the Ga Buc Says:

    Ira, you are a badass wordsmith. Good stuff. Just reading this gets me so excited for the future as a Bucs fan.

  10. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    With those huge contracts, we will need to continue to find good inexpensive talent in the draft and UDFA……..Humphries & Brate are good examples.

  11. Keir Says:

    Ira is the Butress that JoeBucsFan needs to continue to provise the daily does of Bucs that I need in my life. Keep on eating those Raysuns, I mean raisins Ira…we love you!!!!!

  12. Keir Says:

    Damn, and I spelled Buttress wrong in my last post, Sorry Ira

  13. bucsfaninchina Says:

    @Buc4Lyfe79 He means Buc Ball as in, smothering defense and an offense that goes as follows: two runs up the gut, play-action slant. Don’t hate on Ira. Best thing to happen to this site in a long, long time.

  14. Stpetebucsfan Says:

    I think everybody agrees when the time arrives #3 and ME13 and Kwon gotta get paid.

    But all three of these guys want to win…like Brady perhaps they’ll be willing to structure cap friendly contracts. They’ll stilll get their money…perhaps delayed a bit…they can look at it like an annuity for millionaires.

  15. Mike Johnson Says:

    Say Ira, the Bucs will have to open up that checkbook to keep both Evans and Winston. And I do mean open..wide. The Raiders just set a new bar with Carr. And the Bucs will have to go beyond that. Nothing is cheap anymore want to win.

  16. unbelievable Says:

    Got me fired up for some football Ira!

  17. Fsuking Says:

    Nice one Ira!

  18. Capt.Tim Says:

    Spot on IRA, You Rock!
    And dont count Donovan out. He is the Strongest LT Ive seen since Jonathan Ogden or Anthony Munuez

  19. scott ledger Says:

    It’s really a blast watching this franchise turn around at the same time independent media is making it’s mark. I simply can’t enough Bucs content. Awesome as always Irv.

  20. destinjohnny Says:

    i wish this team had a 24 year old mike alstott.
    can you imagine….

  21. Bucsfan951 Says:

    Another home run by Ira! Damn, you know how to fire me up for Buccaneers football. Great article, dude!