Will the Buccaneers franchise tag Mike Evans (and does it make sense?)

Tampa Bay has a big decision to make with how it brings back Mike Evans.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages

We're only a few weeks away from free agency officially getting underway, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers already know what they need to accomplish.

Jason Licht said as much at the NFL Combine this week, but the priority for Tampa Bay is bringing back its three key free agents: Antoine Winfield Jr., Baker Mayfield, and Mike Evans.

It's long been assumed that the Bucs will be able to bridge the gap with Baker and Winfield, but things are a little tricker when it comes to re-signing Evans. He gave the team an ultimatum before the season that wasn't met, and all signs point toward the future Hall of Famer hitting the market for the first time in his career.

That doesn't necessarily mean he's going to leave, but it certainly complicates matters more than anyone would like.

Will the Buccaneers franchise tag Mike Evans?

Reaching a long-term deal is the most ideal outcome, but it's not the only option the Bucs have on the table.

Cincinnati tagged Tee Higgins earlier this week which got some folks thinking the Bucs might do the same thing. While it's technically an option, and it will inevitably be tossed out as part of the national discussion, there's a near-zero chance that Evans gets the tag.

In fact, it's safer to say it's an impossibility than investing in the idea that it could happen.

Nothing about the Bucs tagging Evans makes sense, from the money it would cost to the devastating ramifications it would have on the team's relationship with him. Evans has long played at a discounted rate and he's made it clear he wants to get paid what he feels he's both owed and worth.

We don't know the exact figure but most projections have him in the $25 million AAV range. Tagging Evans would cost the Bucs $21.816 million next season, but would also allow them to continue working out a long-term deal or trade him to a team that wants to pay him. In that scenario, the Bucs would get two first-round picks in exchange for Evans.

That might seem good from the team's perspective, but the tag is almost an insult to players who get it and probably wouldn't do much to earn goodwill in negotiations with Evans.

Not tagging him is a show of confidence that the team believes he can hit the market and still return to Tampa Bay. All along Evans has said he wants to retire after having played his whole career in Tampa Bay, and there's mutual interest in making that happen.

How this likely plays out is the Bucs let Evans hit free agency to establish an exact value on his contract in order to match it. Right now his value is whatever the two sides determine it is, but once third parties get involved things will get a little clearer.

Tagging Evans not only prevents that, but it sends all the wrong messages to a guy who has done nothing but been the utmost professional for a franchise that at times hasn't been fully deserving of it. There's no bad blood as it stands now, so introducing some by way of the tag makes no sense.

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