Buccaneers can't afford to drop the ball with Baker Mayfield and Mike Evans

To let two of their most important players sniff free agency is poor management.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers / Perry Knotts/GettyImages

What is happening in Tampa Bay over the last week? Gumption? Guts? Ineptitude? Whatever word you want to describe how the Buccaneers have treated the greatest receiver in the history of their franchise, fans are starting to feel the pressure of the situation that lies ahead

Perhaps anxiety and frustration are the closest to describing how everyone feels with free agency set to open in less than a month.

Mike Evans is coming off yet another 1,000 yard receiving season. Something he has done in every single season of his 10-year NFL career, all in Tampa Bay.

His 79 catches, 1.255 yards, and 13 touchdowns dwarfed anyone else on the roster and was up there among the very best in the entire league. Those are elite numbers. Yet, if rumors are to be believed, the Bucs brass have deemed it enough to lowball their franchise cornerstone.

It was reported that Evans and the organization were "far apart" on numbers and he will likely test free agency.

To be fair, negotiations have probably just started and the two sides seem to be exactly where they were when talks broke off back in September. Still, it doesn't take a lot of squinting to see that Evans is worth the money he's owed.

Mike Evans deserves to get paid, and it needs to be by the Bucs

This is a player that has restructured his contract on at last four different occasions in order to help the team stay competitive or to retain their young talent. He never wavered in his loyalty to the franchise, even through some very lean years pre-Brady.

It doesn't send the best message to the rest of your roster or prospective free agents that Tampa Bay is not willing to scratch his back after he worked with the front office on numerous times before for them.

At 30 years old, some would say that he might be losing a step. His performance last season and in the playoffs destroys that argument. He is still very clearly a Top 10 wideout in this league. After how last season went, Tampa Bay should be trying to add, not subtract.

We all thought an Evans extension was coming, but it never did. Now, we are reaching the point of no return. He is expected to meet with other teams and one of them will offer him the money he wants -- and deserves.

It's a shame that the Bucs let it get this far, but it's not the end of the road yet. Nor is it the only situation the team needs to promptly take care of.

Baker Mayfield shouldn't be allowed to hit the open market

Baker Mayfield revived his career this past season, posting career highs in passing yards, touchdowns, and completion percentage.

Losing Dave Canales as Offensive Coordinator was a bit of a blow, but the hiring of Liam Coen, who has previously worked with Baker, was made with the future in mind -- one that involves Baker at the center.

However, with free agency just a few weeks away, anxiety is starting to build that the two most important players on the Bucs offense will be allowed to meet with other potential suitors.

They have completely bungled the Mike Evans contract situation, and the anxiety that stems from that has many feeling like the Bucs are walking a thin line with Baker.

To be fair, it's easy to understand some hesitation after coming off a season with $85 million in dead cap, however, the salary cap in the NFL is almost laughable. There are so many ways around these caps and hard caps, just look at the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams who won Super Bowls doing that.

Jason Licht is a master at finding a way to make things work, though, so a decent amount of confidence should be felt in that regard. The Bucs did skirt around the cap during the Brady years, which is why they needed to take their medicine this past offseason, so credit is due there.

It's hard not to believe the Buccaneers could have secured Evans long-term months ago, though. If they want to be considered a serious franchise, now and going forward, they have to act like it. Pay your stars and build around them.

Continuity is huge in this league and the Mayfield-Evans connection was one of the best in the NFL. You cannot let them walk away and convince the footballing world you are serious about winning.

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