We're just past the halfway point of the season, and rumors of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Well, maybe not greatly. The Bucs have done themselves exactly zero favors over the last five weeks, losing all but one game since their bye and continuing to look like a newborn baby deer on offense. Even when the offense gets going, as it did when scoring a season-high 37-points against Houston, something else goes wrong.
Tampa Bay has been a wildly inconsistent team this year, but one reliable element has been the play of Mike Evans. He was chastised for some brutal drops in the win over Tennessee but for the most part, he remains on an elite level.
As expected, Evans is having another fantastic season despite not being as much a focal point on offense as he should be. While the Bucs stubbornly try to rely on a non-existent run game, Evans is on pace for over 1,300 yards which would extend his streak of seasons finishing with over 1,000 yards -- one that stands at nine seasons.
His pending free agency at the end of the year has been put on the back burner, and gotten lost in the frustration of the recent stretch of games, but it's something that NFL insiders around the league are keeping tabs on.
Latest Mike Evans free agency buzz from ESPN insider
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler gave the latest buzz around Evans in a piece breaking down the Top 25 free agents this upcoming offseason. For what it's worth, the Bucs have four players in the ranking, with Evans behind Antoine Winfield Jr but ahead of Devin White and Baker Mayfield.
As far as what the future holds, Fowler is throwing Bucs fans a life preserver regarding the possibility of Evans returning in March.
"He'll be 31 in August but reminds us of a Calais Campbell -type player, only on offense -- his body type will help him age well for a contender. Some people in the league believe the Bucs will find a way to re-sign, allowing the franchise staple to retire in Tampa Bay," Fowler said.
Right now it's impossible to get a good grip on what will end up happening with Evans. He hasn't been shy about his affection for Tampa Bay and his desire to return, but he's been clear that he won't settle for less to do so.
Already there have been rumors of teams trying to get a head start on landing him, with the New York Jets near the top of the list. Whether the Jets made an inquiriy about Evans before the season or at the trade deadline -- or both -- it's undeniably clear that they're interested. Getting to play for a Super Bowl with another future Hall of Famer at quarterback is a pretty easy sales pitch, and is just a sample of the type of competition the Bucs will have on the open market for Evans.
It's encouraging, though, that insiders continue to mention the Bucs as a destination when talking about Evans. We'll have to see what the future holds, but it might not be as bleak as it once seemed.