While the season ended short of a Super Bowl, just how close the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to getting there is what everyone’s big takeaway should be.
This was a team expected to win fewer than five games this year, yet the Bucs won a third straight NFC South title and returned to the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. More over, they showed huge improvements over last season, finishing the year with a winning record (low bar!) while finding a way to navigate out of choppy midseason waters.
A 1-6 slump nearly sunk the season, but rather than roll over like the team last year might have done, the Bucs found a way to fight through it and come out on the other side. The result was a four game wining streak that showed the team knew how to self-diagnose and correct course.
That also led to a huge Wild Card win over the Eagles and nearly sneaking into Detroit and beating the Lions to return to the NFC Championship Game. The season ended short of that, but the foundation seems to be in place to ensure the future is bright.
Mike Evans drops hint about future with Buccaneers after playoff loss
One of the biggest questions hanging over the season was what would happen with Mike Evans. He played this season without a contract for next year, and set an ultimatum before the Week 1 that wasn’t met by the front office.
That has created a situation where the best offensive player in franchise history — a guy still setting franchise records — might have played his last down with the team. That’s not a future anyone wants, including Evans.
While Evans made it clear he was still processing the loss, he did hint at his future a few times while speaking with the media after the game. Notably, he made a point to say that he hopes he and Baker Mayfield are back together next season, presumably in Tampa Bay.
That's music to the ears of Bucs fans everywhere.
It's long seemed like the most logical outcome to this whole contract situation is Evans returning to Tampa Bay. He's reiterated time and time again how much he wants to spend his entire career with the Bucs, and that has only seemed to soldify even more after everything that happened this season.
When he made the contract ultimatum before the season, the team was in an entirely different place. There was uncertainty over who would be the quarterback of the future and the hangover from having Tom Brady was still lingering.
Fast forward to now, and it truly feels like the team found a new identity to march forward with. Baker formed a special bond that seems to be near and dear to everyone in the locker room and it's the sort of environment that Evans probably didn't know would exist back in Week 1.
More importantly, the Bucs are good and only going to get better. There's a clear path forward and Evans returning next season makes even more sense than it did before.
Of course, this all comes down to money. Evans and the Bucs were still far enough apart on a contract that a deal couldn't get done, but already Baker has made it seem like he's willing to work something out that ensures there's room for Evans to return next season. In fact, he went so far as to say if he comes back to Tampa Bay he expects his top reciever to as well.
That's more than just an endorsement, that's a message to the front office that if they want to keep the good times rolling they know how to do it.
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