Evans, who turned 30 last month, is the second-most active receiving yards leader in the NFL, an eventual addition to the Bucs Ring of Honor and on the path to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Why would the Glazer family consider parting with such an iconic player?
A little history lesson. Outside linebacker Derrick Brooks was cut by the Bucs in 2009 with a one-page release by the team that also announced the waiving of receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard, running back Warrick Dunn and linebacker Cato June.
Prior to that, the Bucs failed safety John Lynch on a physical, even though he went on to play four straight Pro Bowl seasons with the Broncos.
Defensive tackle Warren Sapp signed a four-year deal with the Raiders as a free agent in 2004.
What was notable about the statement Friday from Evans’ agent, Deryk Gilmore, is that he gave flowers to general manager Jason Licht and assistant GM Mike Greenberg but challenged the Glazers.
“Despite our efforts over the past two years, and the professionalism of Bucs general manager Jason Licht and assistant general manager Mike Greenberg, we have not received and offer to stay in Tampa,” Gilmore said in a statement. “…When you have a player that will be a Hall of Famer and still has four to six more years to make an impact on the league, you move heaven and earth to keep him on your team, and we would hope ownership feels the same way.”
The key word there is “ownership.”
That line was very intentional. Gilmore doesn’t hold Licht and Greenberg responsible for this impasse. Remember, he said the Bucs haven’t even made an offer.
The Glazer family spent heavily during the Tom Brady years. It paid off with a Super Bowl 55 win, two division titles and two home playoff games.
Forget the salary cap ramifications. That’s accounting. But with every free agent signed, there was an accompanying signing bonus.
Brady is gone and the Bucs are getting younger with 13 rookies, including six undrafted free agents.
When Brady unretired, the first free agent signed was center Ryan Jensen. He got a three-year, $39 million deal with $26.5 million guaranteed. He played one game last season, the wild-card loss to Dallas. Unable to recover from three torn knee ligaments, he was placed on injured reserve and his career is likely over.
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The Glazers don’t seem too interested in investing big dollars into players 30 or older.
The Bucs aren’t conceding anything this season. The NFC South is winnable, but they’re paying the bills for the Brady years.
The Bucs know they have to invest in young players such as linebacker Devin White, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and tackle Tristan Wirfs, who could get a contract extension before having to play under the fifth-year club option in 2024.
Receiver Chris Godwin has one season left on his three-year, $60 million deal and he is three years younger than Evans, albeit fairly beaten up throughout his career.
Moreover, the Bucs don’t really know who their quarterback will be next season. If Baker Mayfield knocks it out of the park this season, he is a free agent. Geno Smith did that for the Seahawks and parlayed it into a three-year, $75 million contract.
So what can the Bucs do about Evans?
A franchise tag seems remote. It would be about $23 million for 2024 and his cap number would balloon to $28 million.
Spotrac lists Evans’ market value as the top free agent receiver in 2024 at $22.9 million. Evans is believed to be seeking a deal closer to the three-year, $80.1 million contract signed by the Rams’ Cooper Kupp, with $75 million guaranteed.
What could the Bucs do with Evans if they’re not going to re-sign him?
“Mike wants the next phase of his career to be with an organization who wants him and wants him to help win a Super Bowl,” Gilmore said in the statement.
There are several teams in the NFL that could use a receiver, the Colts, Titans, Patriots and Texans among them.
Will the Bucs trade Evans? Unlikely. No GM wants to be the guy who traded away such a great player on and off the field. It’s more likely they let him play the 2023 season and watch him leave as a free agent.
Of course, deadlines can be extended. There will be several months after the season before the start of free agency to reconsider.
But the Glazer family for a number of reasons — known and unknown — haven’t reached for their checkbook.
Jensen restructures contract
One reason for the delay in announcing that Jensen was going on injured reserve is he restructured his contract to give the Bucs some salary cap relief. According to overthecap.com, Jensen was going to use up $17.267 million of cap space this year. With the restructure, his cap charge was reduced to $5.977 million that the team will carry through the first part of 2024. The Bucs can release Jensen after June 1 and reduce that final figure to $4.767 million.
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