As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepare to begin a new season, and it’s one where an emphasis has been put on looking toward the future.
Lazy analysis will interpret that as meaning the Bucs are tanking for Caleb Williams, while those paying attention will note something different. There is zero intention of tanking in Tampa Bay, but the team is going to be under evaluation all season to see which players are pieces of the core and which ones will be elsewhere next season.
One of those guys is Mike Evans, the future Hall of Famer who will go down as one of the greatest Bucs in franchise history.
Evans is in the final year of his contract and set a deadline of Saturday for the team to offer him a deal he likes. That didn’t happen, and now he will play this season without a deal and with an uncertain future in Tampa Bay. The Bucs had a chance to lock Evans in without anyone else in the room, which won’t be the case when potential suitors enter the equation in March.
It was unlikely the Bucs would budge after getting the ultimatum from Evans’ agent, but we’re now learning more about why an extension wasn’t offered.
NFL insider offers more context on Mike Evans not getting extension from Bucs
A major factor that dictated much of the Bucs offseason was how strapped for cash the team is. After Tom Brady retired in February, the team incurred $35 million in dead cap space to go along with being $55 million over the salary cap.
Tough decisions needed to be made to get back under that threshold, but it didn’t stop the Bucs from making moves. One signing the team made was adding quarterback Baker Mayfield, who comes to Tampa Bay with a proper chip on his shoulder and motivation to prove he can be still fulfill the prophecy being the No. 1 pick brings.
According to NFL insider Josina Anderson, Mayfield’s future — and the Bucs gamble on him — turned out to be one of the reasons the front office held off an giving Evans an extension at this time.
"The Bucs spent a lot of money running back the last couple of years, and also know they have players like Wirfs, Winfield, White, Godwin that they have to be contractually mindful of. This also includes Baker Mayfield who they'll consider paying if he plays well this season too," Anderson reported. "While Mike Evans has 9 consecutive 1000+ yard seasons and a strong relationship with the organization and GM Jason Licht as his first-ever pick, my understanding is they want to see what they have with their young core players.
We knew that young players like Winfield and Wirfs were going to be prioritized over Evans, and rightfully so. Evans is the greatest offensive player the Buccaneers have ever had, but he has more years behind him than ahead.
Mayfield being earmarked as a priority is necessarily a new development, but hearing it is confirmation that the Bucs see his signing as a potential long-term plan. It also flies in the face of suggestions that signing him was a move to tank for Caleb Williams.
All that being said, Anderson offered up some hope that a deal might get done. She pointed out that the Bucs don't usually let franchise players walk away, and mentioned how the team managed to keep Jamel Dean and Lavonte David this offseason despite not reaching new deals with them sooner.
"Letting players test the market and still extending them isn't unprecedented for Tampa either. They did it with David, Dean, and Davis. The thing is will Evans opt not to return, which has been inferred with issuing and now not giving him an extension by his deadline," Anderson said.
Here’s what the most likely outcome in all of this is: Evans and the Bucs reach a deal in March after he tests the market and doesn’t hear wildly higher numbers than he’s hearing now. Any hurt feelings over not getting extended now can heal over the course of the season, and two sides that clearly want to remain together can find a way to make it happen.