5 key players the Buccaneers can’t afford to let get away in free agency

There are a handful of Buccaneers set to hit free agency this offseason that the team simply can't afford to lose.

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Mike Evans, WR

Few athletes have been able to create the type of legacy within one organization that Mike Evans has with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His contributions both on and off the field have made him one of the most beloved players in Buccaneers history, and Evans has a spot waiting for him in Canton and in the Buccaneers’ Ring of Honor whenever his career comes to an end. The fanbase was shocked this offseason when Evans and his agent gave the Buccaneers an ultimatum to offer an extension by a set deadline or they would cut off contract talks until the offseason. The parties failed to reach an agreement before the deadline, and now Evans’ future in Tampa Bay is up in the air.

Needless to say, if the Buccaneers allow Mike Evans to walk this offseason, it would be one of the biggest disappointments in the history of the franchise. Evans has been a model of consistency since the Bucs drafted him in 2014, maintaining elite production regardless of the circumstances surrounding him. His attitude and effort never wavered, despite the dysfunction of the franchise early in his career. In 2023, Evans recorded his 10th straight 1,000 yard season to open his career, an NFL record and a milestone that has helped cement him among the elite receivers in NFL history.

His 13 receiving touchdowns tied for the highest in the league.

Many expected Evans' production to slip when Tom Brady retired and was replaced by Baker Mayfieldbut instead, Evans had one of the best statistical seasons of his career in 2023. He developed a strong connection with Mayfield this season, and following the season-ending loss in Detroit, the quarterback made it clear how he felt about Evans' impending free agency.

"He makes my life easy. He did all year. He did it today, over and over," Mayfield said during his postgame press conference. "If I'm back, I want Mike back."

Apart from being a superstar on the field, Mike Evans may be even more impressive off the field. Evans has become a beloved and respected figure in the Tampa Bay community due to his philanthropy, as he gives back to the communities that have been a part of his journey through the Mike Evans Family Foundation.

Evans has embraced his stature as perhaps the most popular player within the Bucs' fandom, and he makes sure to always shows his appreciation. Whether it be his tradition of giving the ball to a fan after he scores a touchdown, or always stopping for pictures and autographs for fans, he is one of the most iconic players in franchise history, and the fanbase will have his back during this negotiation period.

From a business perspective, Evans has restructured his contract multiple times to create flexibility for the Buccaneers to build the roster and he even once offered to take a pay cut to ensure his teammate Chris Godwin could get a fair contract to remain in Tampa Bay.

Now, it is time for the Buccaneers to do right by their franchise player. The two parties will have to come to a reasonable deal for both sides, as the reports indicate that Evans is looking to break the bank, while the Bucs are hesitant to fork over a massive contract to a 30-year old receiver. Despite the tense negotiations, Evans has made it known that he hopes to retire a Buccaneer, and Jason Licht and Todd Bowles have both publicly expressed their desire to get a contract extension done. Losing a player who is such a staple both for the fanbase and inside the locker room would be a major failure for the franchise.