The first wave of NFL free agency is over and lots of people around the league are declaring the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as one of the winners. Just because your team wins the free agency period doesn’t mean you’re bound to go straight to the playoffs though. I can’t even count on one finger how many times that a team made a bunch of off-season moves, getting talked about as the “winners of free agency” only to not live up to their potential. On the other hand, there are fewer but still some examples of teams actually living up to the hype and producing a playoff berth. The New York Giants of last year are a perfect example of that, all of their big money signings delivering for the organization.
Bringing back William Gholston, Jacquizz Rodgers, Chris Conte, and Joe Hawley on top of signing Chris Baker, JJ Wilcox, and most importantly DeSean Jackson are all reasons for an exciting off-season in Tampa Bay. General manager Jason Licht hopes more than anyone for his team to replicate the Giants success of last year and with still over $30 million in cap space available the fan base wants the moves to keep coming. Unfortunately for the fans, Licht shouldn’t go down that path because he has one more important move on his agenda to take care of. Signing superstar wide receiver Mike Evans to a contract extension should be priority number one over anything else.
In 2011, the new collective bargaining agreement included a new rule for first round draft-picks contracts that they must sign a four-year deal with a team option for a fifth year. The team has the opportunity to pick up that option between the player’s third and fourth seasons, which is the exact situation the Bucs are in with Mike Evans. The Bucs have until May 3rd to pick that option up, which they obviously will do, but also can now officially start talking to Evans about a potential contract extension so that he doesn’t reach the open market. Losing a player of his caliber can set the franchise back years so getting a deal done to ensure that Evans will be a Buccaneer for a long time would certainly be in the team’s best interests.
Evans is coming off his first pro bowl appearance, catching 96 passes for 1,321 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, while gaining some recognition as one of the top receivers in all of football. Being only 23 years old and already ripping off three straight 1,000 yard receiving seasons to start off his career, this is a talent that doesn’t come around very often. Evans is also growing into a leader for this team, not caring about individual statistics but just wanting to win football games and one day the super bowl. He is one of the favorites to now have a “C” on his chest, probably taking over as a captain because of the expected departure of veteran Vincent Jackson. Jackson has been a model citizen for Tampa Bay over the last five years and it’s good that Evans got to learn from one of the best. Evans taking over a more vocal leadership role going forward shouldn’t be much of a problem because he has shown that he has a good head on his shoulders.
The Bucs have done a good job this off-season shoring up some key holes on both sides of ball and not overpaying to do so. Instead of spending the approximately $32 million in cap space on addressing the rest of the team, they should instead invest about half of that to a Mike Evans extension. Back in 2015, arguably the best receiver in the league, Julio Jones, signed a five-year, $71.25 million contract, giving him $14.25 million per year. This past off-season another receiver who is viewed as top two material, Antonio Brown, received a four-year, $68 million contract. Brown’s deal is good for the highest annual wide receiver salary in football at $17 million. Being younger than both of these players at the time they signed their deal, the Bucs should try to shoot for a longer term deal with Evans because this young man hasn’t even reached his prime yet. A five-year deal that includes money around $16-17 million, making him the second highest paid receiver in football, sounds like the ideal deal to make. It is a whole lot of money but Evans is a top flight receiver and him reaching free agency is only going to make his price tag go up even further.
Worse comes to worse, the Bucs can have Evans play out this year making $4.6 million and then next off-season get back to negotiations but that shouldn’t be their plan. Why not show some love to a homegrown player who has performed at a historic rate through three seasons? Evans and franchise quarterback Jameis Winston have a great relationship, showing last year how deadly this duo can be. With the addition of DeSean Jackson to help stretch the field, by the end of next season no one will be sleeping on Evans anymore. This is a 6’5”, 225 pound beast who can run by corners, catch passes over the middle, and jump over defenders at will so keeping him happy should be a must. Tampa Bay Buccaneers football is on the rise and keeping this guy around is one of the key reasons why. Get the deal done Jason Licht.
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