The Unthinkable

February 20th, 2024

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Mike Evans has crafted a Hall of Fame career based on leverage. And boy, does he have some now.

For 10 NFL seasons, Evans has used his size and savvy to box out defenders, capitalizing on an immense catch radius. As free agency approaches, it would appear Evans has the Bucs boxed into a similar corner.

Evans wants Davante Adams money and if Tampa Bay isn’t willing to meet his demands, he’ll sell himself to the highest bidder. There will be plenty of suitors for a 30-year-old wide receiver who shows no signs of slowing down.

And let’s be honest — can the Bucs afford to watch him leave?

I asked Todd Bowles that question at his season-ending news conference. His response was brutally honest, even as it may enhance Evans’ bargaining position.

“I don’t ever think about it,” Bowles said about the prospect of Evans playing for a different franchise. “I don’t like to be asked about it. I hope to hell that does not happen.”

Dangerous age, explains Ira Kaufman.

But it does happen … all over the league. Few marquee receivers play for only one team before retirement. Ask Jerry Rice, Adams, Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown. Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, James Lofton, Anquan Boldin, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins and Antonio Brown.

Evans turns 31 in August. That’s traditionally a dangerous age for a wide receiver looking to cash in with one last lucrative contract. Older wideouts tend to lose a step, yet Evans hasn’t built his legacy on speed. While he’s never been a burner, he’s torched many a defensive back since 2014, when he became the first draft card turned in by Jason Licht.

Larry Fitzgerald posted three consecutive seasons of at least 100 catches and 1,000 yards after he turned 32.

No Plan B

NFL history suggests the Bucs might be wise to move on from No. 13 and sign younger players like Antoine Winfield Jr. and Tristan Wirfs to long-term deals. Licht isn’t thinking that way. He wants it all and he’s assigned cap guru Mike Greenberg to work out the details.

If the Bucs had a Plan B in place for Life Without Evans, it might make sense to let him test the market. Looking at this roster, you know what Plan B stands for when it comes to alternatives? Barren.

Chris Godwin is a solid No. 2 target who has never been a top dog on an NFL offense. Evans draws most of the attention from opposiing defensive coordinators and without No. 13, Godwin would have to raise his game markedly. That’s a risky bet for an offense that struggles — even with Evans and Godwin on the field.

Evans reached the end zone 13 times last season, which is nine more than runner-up Cade Otton.

Godwin has five TD catches combined over the past two years. Trey Palmer did some nice things as a rookie, but he averaged only 9.9 yards per reception. Godwin averaged 12.3, Evans averaged 15.9, even better than his career mark of 15.3 yards per catch.

In what could turn out to be his final game as a Buccaneer, Evans caught eight passes for 147 yards and a score in the playoff loss at Detroit.

Placing the franchise tag on Evans doesn’t make a lot of sense. It would cost the Bucs well north of $20 million for one season and Winfield seems like a more likely candidate. Simply put, the Bucs are not in a position to move on from the most prolific offensive player in franchise history.

The Bucs are 2-6 in games Evans has missed in his career. While he isn’t blessed with great hands (7 drops last season) and his yards after catch are minimal, Evans remains the key weapon for an offense that isn’t blessed with many play-makers.

Wait a minute, didn’t the Chiefs just win back-to-back Super Bowls without the great Tyreek Hill?

Yes they did, but two factors jump out.

First and foremost, they have Patrick Mahomes under center. He’s the best quarterback of his generation — by far. Secondly, 14 teams scored more points than Kansas City last year, including Indianapolis and Cleveland. With Hill on board in 2021, the Chiefs averaged 28.2 points per game. Last year, they averaged 21.8. Major difference. It was KC’s defense that saved the day.

Tampa Bay doesn’t have Kansas City’s defense. Tampa Bay doesn’t have Mahomes.

If Evans walks out the door, he just might take this passing game with him. He’s been a great community ambassador for this organization and he remains productive. Like Bowles, new offensive coordinator Liam Coen can’t imagine Evans going anywhere.

The Bucs can sign him or they can punt. There are 10 rival franchises out there hoping for a punt and a very fair catch.

27 Responses to “The Unthinkable”

  1. BA’s Red Pen Says:

    I will not renew my season tickets if they let Mike walk.

  2. D Kilmer Says:

    Hi Ira as usual spot on. Your simply the best and follow your podcasts and column all the time more than anyone else. I used to live in San Jose Bay area and read your articles when you were with the Tribune. I am now retired here in Land O Lakes
    Anyway, guess you don’t answer questions, but will ask.
    Surely the Bucs know they cant let Evans walk now. Simply put they will have no offense. Question, why didn’t they get him signed earlier in the year, it would have been cheaper. Next why not get him signed by the Feb 19 deadline, they would have saved another 7 million?. I never thought they would allow it to happen, but it appears they have missed on this and now Evans has as he should all the leverage and you can’t blame him for using it. The Bucs sat and simply irritated him the the point that he is giving nothing. He was they model for the Town. This is starting to look poorly on the Bucs , once again missing the target on a player . Franchise qb comes to mind. I say if nothing else use the franchise tag if necessary and admit your mistake in not signing him earlier.

  3. bob in valrico Says:

    Ira, I would add that K.C. also morphed their offense to include hard running Pacheco who was used heavily especially in the playoffs, since they no longer had Tyreek.

  4. DoooshLaRue Says:

    Bye Mike.

  5. Davenport Says:

    The Bucs cannot afford him and Godwin, post injury, is not a #1 but an extremely overpaid #2

    All that late season run did was cost us a high pick throughout the entire draft, forced another year of cap and saddled us with terrible coaching for another year.

    Last year was the golden opportunity to clear out the roster and coaching staff and prep for a re-set.

  6. Jerseybuc Says:

    KC has Reid that’s the biggest difference. Andy wins with any QB.

    Bucs gotta keep 13 I think they get it done

  7. Pelsbuc61 Says:

    The unthinkable caused an int in the Lions playoff game with his unreliable hands and also had key drops all season long. Everyone in life is replaceable.

  8. Dave Pear Says:

    Shoulda happened yesterday. Rats.

  9. Lol Says:

    Will not being going to a home game next year and beyond if Evans walks

  10. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Has anyone noticed the dominance of #13 jerseys at Raymond James?

    There is no way we let him go….he is the #1 fan favorite. Just can’t afford to lose him. Period!!!

  11. Buc15 Says:

    Unless Big Mike takes a team friendly deal, we can’t afford him at 25m per year. We have to sign Baker & Winfield so Mike’s deal would be 3rd priority.

  12. NJbucs23 Says:

    He’s earned the right to become a FA.

    We need to get our cap # under control. We chased and had a great run, but let’s get the accounting under control, we can pay everyone.

  13. sasquatch Says:

    Evans is so important to this team, that letting him go, in my mind anyway, triggers a rebuild. Mayfield won’t return, so now we don’t have an offense.

    None of us are in a rebuild state of mind. Don’t wanna go there.

  14. Ed Says:

    I expect Mike that Mike will want another SuperBowl and leave the Bucs if a team that is closer to achieving that goal. If he gets an opportunity to go to the Cowboys or Texans he probably would take that. Eagles could use use him.

    The Bucs are in a difficult situation, he’s been here 10 years and the top fan favorite but he knows they have to pay him top money and the Bucs have made that mistake with Barrett and Godwin.

    I can see Jerry Jones making him an offer the Bucs can’t match.

  15. zzbuc Says:

    I agree Sage…

    The problem is there is not money for everyone, in my list of priorities ME13 is #1, but BM will want to get payed so as Winfield…If I am Tristan Wirfs I would like a new contract right now.

    You can trade CDIII, you can get rid of Shaq Barret, but if my math’s are good, is not good enough.

    Maybe trading Chris G??????

    So if you trade those three players, how will the roster look like?

  16. Bucs Guy Says:

    Keep ME13. Trade Godwin, draft his replacement and re-sign Moore. What can you get for Godwin? A 2nd rd pick and maybe a 5th.

    Build the trenches with a G/C in FA, a DE/OLB in rd 1 and a G/C in the 2nd.

  17. BillyBucco Says:

    Im sure Tampa will resign Mike JUST BECAUSE Red Pen and LOL won’t go to games.
    Im also sure that GB had a ton of Adams jerseys as well as Hill in KC.
    Didn’t look like KC had trouble filling the stadium.
    Why don’t we just say well they have Mahomes and continue to whine while never drafting a QB again because they are so risky.
    It’s time to go find Mikes replacement and the draft is littered with elite WRs EVERY YEAR NOW.
    QBs are getting better and better too.
    ME13 is a legacy in Tampa, but great teams have a TON of them.
    Just because this team had the Lost Decade doesn’t mean we can’t find success post Mike Evans.
    They are already on their way through good drafting.

  18. Beeej Says:

    Our defense is average, our running game either worst or second worst. Only thing we do well is heave the ball down the field, which Evans uniquely helps with. Godwin is a good slot, (whose task is made easier by the two guys shadowing Evans), but he doesn’t produce with go-routes. Palmer isn’t quite even a #3, and can’t do what the 6’5″ Evans does at any rate. I can’t see us winning games without Evans, or someone like him

  19. BillyBucco Says:

    Also for the renting Mayfield crowd for 1 year on the Tag, that doesn’t guarantee Mike anything for next year. That’s why he wants 30 million. They would have to sign Baker for at least 2 years for Mike to feel comfortable breaking Rice’s record.
    No way is he gonna take less to stay and then only tie Rice because some other guy wants to check it down all day.
    He can go play for Houston and KNOW right now Stroud will be there and it’s ALL ON HIM.

  20. Bobby M. Says:

    Mike is most likely going to the team that throws the most guaranteed money his way….that’s really what waiting until free agency is all about for both parties. Mike wants to see what others offer as he should, then give Bucs an opportunity to match. I imagine same with Mayfield…’s really going to come down to the guarantees, that’s the money the plan know they can bank on.

  21. Duane in Sanford Says:

    This team is not in a rebuild mode, its in reload mode. This team has talent in key spots, AND plenty of playoff experience. Licht is either a genius at picking from the middle of the round, or there are enough complementary players on the roster that helps those picks transition. Either way, this team wins in their division, and with Todd Bowles as the coach. Mike Evans is a BIG part of that success, and the only reason this team is not in pieces being sold off. You bring the band back and you take your chances even with the higher expectations.

  22. Beeej Says:

    We haven’t brought in a GOOD WR since Godwin in 2018, similar track record as QB’s and pass rushers

  23. uhmmm Says:

    Mayfield is worthless without Mike

  24. ATLBUC Says:

    Easy solution, let Bake walk, start Kyle, sign Mike

  25. covertwo22 Says:

    HATE to say it, but if he wants over 20mil let him walk. I think there’s comparable receivers available for less. Plus he’s older, drops passes and his YAC average is terrible.
    I think he’s great, but not worth that kind of money. Almost no WR is.
    Plus this team pushed him over 1k yards several of his years. Remember when he broke 1k 3 years ago on week 16? Brady force fed him the ball for over 200yrds.
    I don’t know if any other team will make his record a priority like Tampa has. Just like Adams is mediocre in Vegas, I can see the same thing happening to Mike.

  26. heyjude Says:

    Can’t let Mike walk. Yes, he is 31, but we saw him this year he still has it. Yes, he had some drops but all in all he made the TDs. He is the heart and soul of the Bucs. Got to get him to stay.

  27. garro Says:

    We do not have his replacement on the roster. Godwin, Gage if he sticks and Palmer. Maybe

    The only thing I would question Ira, is your assesment of Godwin. He has stepped up in Evans absence (thankfuly Mike has been healthy mostly).

    Life without Mike ain’t gonna be pretty if it happens this year. But we do have options and we need to draft Mikes replacement this year or next. Maybe should have already done so.

    Go Bucs!