As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepare to head up to Minnesota for a Week 1 battle with the Vikings, a different game is playing out away from the field.
Mike Evans gave the Bucs an ultimatum to chew on over the holiday weekend. If the two sides can't agree to a new contract before this upcoming Saturday, the future Hall of Famer is going to test free agency next March.
Evans is in the final year of his contract, and it sounded like things were going to progress without much drama. From everything that was being reported, Evans wants to remain with the Bucs for the rest of his career and the team wants to have him as well.
Then this past week happened.
Now it sounds like the two sides are far enough apart that a seperation seems like the most probably outcome. It goes againes almost everything Bucs fans were being told, but is also the nature of these sorts of negotiations.
Evans wants to get paid like a top receiver in the league but the cash-strapped Bucs aren't in a position to give him a blank check. This could be the darkest point of negotiations before the dawn but it feels like the two sides are firmly pitted against one another.
One other element of the drama is that it has thrust the Bucs back into the national spotlight, but surprisingly they're not the type of target they've been for most of the offseason.
Peter King defends Bucs not caving to Mike Evans contract demands
Top NFL insider Peter King talked about the Bucs and Evans in a recent appearance with Mike Florio, and defended the Bucs position in the whole ordeal.
King pointed out the contract Tampa Bay gave Evans back in 2018 -- which was five years, $82 million for a $16.5 million AAV -- and that it's not the team's fault the market has moved since then.
"This year, total cash, Mike Evans is going to make $14.5 million and I'm sure he's thinking and his agent is thinking the Bucs have to the plate here and do what's right and get him up to the $20 million rage. I get it, that's probably fair and right and all that, but you ask yourself this question if you're the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, how long right now for a 30-year-old receiver into the future do we want to guarantee him a huge amount of money," King said. "To me, I understand why the Bucs are trying to hold the line a little bit."
This comes after King called the Bucs the second-worst team in the league earlier this offseason. Even with the sort of view on the team, the insider isn't burying the Bucs over battling with a franchise star, which is pretty telling.
Like Jack Nicholson said in Batman, the Bucs need to think about the future. Evans is by far the best offensive player the franchise has ever had, and is going to one day have his name hanging in the Ring of Honor. The price for Evans might have already been paid, though, and giving him another big contract might prevent the team from securing key foundational pieces for the next generation.
Evans needs a new contract, but so do guys like Antoine Winfield Jr., Tristan Wirfs, and Devin White. All three of those guys are younger than Evans, will be more expensive, and are more important to the team's future.
That's the crux of the drama. Evans has bene a fantastic player for the Buccaneers and there will forever be an endless amount of love for him from fans. It's clear Evans will always have a special place in his heart for the franchise, but it doesn't seem to be good business to give him a big contract over other players when the team could justifiably say it's already paid him extremely well.
It's a truly messy situation, one that Bucs fans are going to have to ride out and see where the chips fall.