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Bucs make Mike Evans NFL’s second highest-paid receiver

Mike Evans becomes Tampa Bay's highest-paid player with a new 5-year, $82.5 million extension, a reward for four, 1,000-yard seasons to start his career.
Bucs receiver Mike Evans makes a catch as Bills defensive back Leonard Johnson defends last season. With his new deal, Evans trails only the Steelers' Antonio Brown as best-paid receivers. LOREN ELLIOTT | Times
Published Mar. 9, 2018
Updated Mar. 10, 2018

TAMPA — Let's start with the obvious: Mike Evan$ got paid.

But what does the five-year, $82.5 million contract extension he agreed to with the Bucs on Friday say about the former first-round pick?

It means Evans is considered one of the elite receivers in the NFL, topped only in average salary by the $17 million per year earned by the Steelers' Antonio Brown.

His production would suggest it, too. This past year, Evans joined his idol, Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss, and the Bengals' A.J. Green as players to have at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of their first four seasons.

It also is a harbinger of things to come for the Bucs, who have begun to use that vault of money under the salary cap to lock up their young core of players. Evans is signed through 2023.

Next up, in no particular order, will be linebacker Kwon Alexander, left tackle Donovan Smith, center Ali Marpet and possibly tight end Cameron Brate and receiver Adam Humphries, both restricted free agents.

A year or maybe two from now, the Bucs could be announcing what promises to be the richest deal in franchise history with quarterback Jameis Winston.

If you are the Bucs, this is what you hoped for when general manager Jason Licht started picking players nearly five years ago.

There have been some wild swings and misses, but for the most part, the players taken in the early rounds of the Bucs' drafts since 2014 have been the kind you can build a foundation with. That's what Friday was really about.

As for Evans, you shouldn't worry whether making him the highest-paid player on the team will turn him into Money Mike.

Evans, 24, sort of made that clear when he posted a message on Instagram shortly after agreeing to the contract that includes $55 million guaranteed.

"I'm excited to announce I will be spending the next several seasons in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers with one goal in mind: winning a Super Bowl with my teammates," Evans said.

That may sound like it came from some slick marketing agent, but the sentiment is pure Evans, who has always walked the fine line between passion and emotion.

He let his emotions get the best of him this past season when he blindsided Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore during a sideline confrontation with Jameis Winston at New Orleans. That earned Evans a one-game suspension.

"Mike's frustration is he's about winning," said Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken. "Mike loves sports. Mike watches basketball. And you know you've got an athletic nut because of the way he is. The winning part of it is so important to him.

"Mike in one game will get fired up because he's very competitive. Mike and Jameis' passion stem from the same thing. To me, in today's day and age, they are rare in the fact that they get individual stats and they get what that means in terms of their future and their money. But they equally want to win and winning is critical to them. Where coaches are tied to winning, players are tied to their name. They're one of the group of guys that you love where it means as much to them to win."

Evans has demonstrated that time and again. Two of the Bucs' most outlandish highlights involve Evans. His one-handed catch despite taking a devastating hit from Falcons safety Keanu Neal was the named the play of the year at NFL Honors two years ago. In 2016 he went high to catch a 39-yard pass from Winston after a scramble play against the Bears in 2016.

"He's a special player and person that allows you to coach him hard every day. Crazy thing is he is only scratching the surface,'' Monken said.

Evans already ranks third in club history with 4,579 receiving yards and his 32 touchdowns are second-most by a Bucs receiver.

But there's no denying that Evans is coming off his worst year since entering the NFL. It took his final catch of 2017 to give him 1,001 yards for the season, a career low. There are many factors for the drop off. By adding other weapons such as DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin, Evans didn't have to lead the NFL with 173 targets the way he did in 2016.

Now it's no longer just footballs that have been thrown at him, it's dollar bills. Evans will handle it the right way. He's formed a foundation. He is determined to give back to the community. He's exactly the type of player an NFL team should want to build around.

Friday was a good day for the Bucs. They rewarded a good player. There are more to come. It could be they have a good future, too.

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