2024 Buccaneers offseason preview: Wide receiver

When it comes to wide receiver, the Buccaneers’ 2024 offseason is about one thing: Mike Evans. Arguably the best offensive player in Bucs’ history, Evans has come to a career-defining inflection point. Does he re-sign with Tampa Bay, likely making him a Buccaneer for life, or does he leave for more lucrative pastures in free agency?

As it has for most of Evans’ career, Tampa Bay’s 2023 offense went as far as its star receiver could take them. Earning his second All-Pro nod, Evans led the Bucs in receiving yards (1255), targets (136) and touchdowns (13), in which he also led the NFL. Evans recorded his 10th-consecutive 1000-yard season, making him the only player to begin his career with 10 straight 1000-yard seasons and now trailing only Jerry Rice all-time.

Evans did everything a player in a contract year wants to do: perform like a superstar. Now, Bucs general manager Jason Licht will have to pony up to keep Evans in Tampa Bay, which he appeared unwilling to do before the 2023 season started.

Spotrac estimates Evans’ market value at $23.8 million average per year, which would make him one of the top 10 highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL. Given his value and consistency, the ask is not unreasonable. Tampa Bay could theoretically afford Evans, but with $32 million in cap space, some cap maneuvering and possibly casualties would be required.

The trump card would be Baker Mayfield, who benefitted more than anyone from Evans’ stellar season. If Mayfield would be willing to drop his asking price, even if only for 2024, the Bucs could run it back with Mayfield and Evans running the ship.

Without Evans, there would be a gaping hole on the Bucs offense, but the team would not be bereft of talent. Chris Godwin still has some juice, recording his third-consecutive 1000-yard season and leading the Bucs in receptions (83) despite fewer targets (130) than Evans.

New Bucs offensive coordinator Liam Coen indicated a different role for Godwin next season akin to how the Rams use Cooper Kupp out of the slot. After some relatively down years in yards after catch and catch rate, Godwin could benefit from a shift in his usage that plays more into his skillset.

Behind Godwin, Trey Palmer flashed considerable promise in his rookie season, catching 39 passes for 385 yards and three touchdowns. He may well have piled on much gaudier stats with a little more chemistry with Mayfield, as he was often creating separation without being targeted. A little more ball security certainly would have helped too, as Palmer fumbled three times in 2023.

Deven Thompkins saw action mostly as a punt returner and gadget player on offense, taking end-arounds and often being used in motion to stress defenses. His speed and versatility should secure him a spot on the 2024 roster.

Veteran David Moore was clutch late in the season, but he is the most likely player to follow former offensive coordinator Dave Canales to Carolina, as he did from Seattle to Tampa Bay. Undrafted rookie Rakim Jarrett was a preseason star, but a crowded receiver room limited his opportunities in 2023. That is unlikely to change in 2024, regardless of Mike Evans’ ultimate landing spot.

An Evans departure is unlikely to prompt a corresponding free-agent addition given the talent on the roster and cap limitations. Instead, the Bucs would most likely seek to replace Evans with one of the many tantalizing wide receiver prospects in this year’s draft class.

Though they would miss out on top prospects like Marvin Harrison Jr. and Rome Odunze, the Bucs could find a new starter with one of their first two picks. LSU WR Brian Robinson or Oregon WR Troy Franklin may not have Evans’ rare blend of size and speed, but both are highly talented receivers that could be available when the Bucs are on the clock in the first round. FSU’s Keon Coleman is the closest the Bucs would get to a trait-for-trait replacement of Evans.

In the second round, Florida WR Ricky Pearsall, Washington WR Ja’Lynn Polk and USC WR Brendan Rice all have starter potential. Even if the Bucs retain Evans, these receivers could still be on the table. After all, Evans is now on the wrong side of 30 and Godwin is creeping up that way himself. Whether or not the Bucs commit to Evans for another three or four years, it could be time for the Bucs to begin looking at their next generation of receivers.

Story originally appeared on Buccaneers Wire