UPDATE: The agent for Mike Evans set a deadline of Sept. 9 ― the eve of the start of the Bucs’ regular season ― to reach an agreement with the Pro Bowl receiver or they will discontinue talks on a new contract.
DEVELOPING: TAMPA — It appears Mike Evans will leave the Bucs much the same way he’s played for them: a bit undervalued but without much fuss.
With talks about a contract extension at an impasse, the greatest offensive weapon in club history is playing what likely will be his final season in Tampa Bay.
Evans is in the last season of a five-year, $82 million deal he signed in 2018.
Having turned 30 only 10 days ago, Evans and his representatives have made no progress with the Bucs on a new contract.
Evans is believed to be seeking a deal similar to the three-year, $80.1 million contract signed by Rams receiver Cooper Kupp that included $75 million guaranteed and a $20 million signing bonus.
Kupp, 30, missed the final eight games last season with an ankle injury and now is battling a hamstring injury.
Evans currently counts $23,698,500 against the salary cap, predominately because he restructured his contract to allow the Bucs to sign free agents during their three years with quarterback Tom Brady.
But if the Bucs can extend Evans’ deal, they could significantly reduce that cap number, which they need to do to create room for operating expenses.
However, with only 10 days remaining before the start of the 2023 regular season, talks on a new deal between the Bucs and Evans have gone nowhere.
That’s in contrast to other free agents around the NFL― such as Raiders running back Josh Jacobs ― who received a 1-year, $12 million contract despite holding out of training camp after receiving the franchise-player tag. That’s a moderate raise over the $10.1 million Jacobs was scheduled to make as the franchise player.
“It sickens (Evans) to see players hold out and get rewarded, when he does everything for the organization on the field, in the community, off the field, working with other players in the organization,” Evans’ agent Deryk Gilmore said Wednesday.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht on Thursday declined to comment on talks with Evans about a new contract.
However, it’s no secret the Bucs are no longer interested in spending big money on 30-something-year-old players after running up that tab during the Brady years.
The team was more than $55 million over the salary cap just before free agency began, forcing them to purge players from the payroll such as tackle Donovan Smith, running back Leonard Fournette and kicker Ryan Succop.
The Bucs weren’t very active in free agency and made a concerted effort to accumulate young talent. In fact, 13 rookies were named to the 53-man roster, including six undrafted free agents.
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“Anytime you’ve challenged your staff to go find, like I’ve said before ― gems at the Dollar Store ― there’s kind of an excitement to it,” Licht said Thursday.
A first-round pick by the Bucs in 2014 out of Texas A&M, Evans is one of the greatest players in club history and is trying to extend his NFL record of nine straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons to start a career.
Whenever he retires, Evans will be the best candidate for immediate addition into the Bucs’ Ring of Honor. His career numbers ― he has 10,425 receiving yards, second-most among active players ― along with 81 career touchdowns.
However, the Bucs have a couple of Pro Bowl players set to become free agents in 2024, including inside linebacker Devin White and safety Antoine Winfield Jr.
What’s more, their quarterback position is unsettled. Baker Mayfield is playing under a one-year, $4 million contract. The Bucs will need to spend heavily to secure a starting quarterback in 2024, whether that’s Mayfield or some other signal-caller.
Receiver Chris Godwin, who at 27 is three years younger than Evans, will be in the final year of a contract that will pay him $20 million in 2024, which is not guaranteed.
At a position known for selfishness, Evans has been the consummate team player. After Brady arrived, he welcomed receiver Antonio Brown and tight end Rob Gronkowski into the fold, even though those players were bound to take targets away from him.
Coach Todd Bowles was asked in June what stood out about Evans. “His unselfishness,” Bowles said. “He’s willing to go in there and block, he’s willing to run the short routes, the deep routes, he’s willing to pick for people when he gets a chance. His unselfishness and his competitiveness.
“Obviously, he’s talented. He’s a heck of a pro and competitor. When you stay with one team and you put up those type of numbers, that says a lot about you from a character standpoint and a talent standpoint. He continues to do it.”
Off the field, Evans has been a big leader in the community. This week, his Mike Evans Foundation awarded $170,000 to 15 students. Thirteen students received $10,000 each, and two of them were surprised with $20,000 each.
Earlier in training camp, Evans noted he was focusing on preparing for the season and not his contract situation.
“Of course, I’d love to finish my career here,” he said. “There’s really nothing I can do about it. I’m not going to stay home and make a big deal about it. So, I’m just out here working as hard as I can. That’s what I’m doing. I’m here. I’ve always loved being here, and obviously I want to stay here, and I’m sure they want to keep me.
“But it’s a business.”
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