ORLANDO — His first season with the Bucs had ended with defeat and some disappointment. And no one is certain where he’ll be when the next one begins.
But rather than watch their neighborhood be invaded by the hordes of costumed pirates in Tampa last weekend, Baker Mayfield and wife Emily, who is expecting the couple’s first child in April, headed south to the Florida Keys for a getaway.
“Just relaxing. Took a little vacation for Gasparilla weekend,” Mayfield said. “With Emily being that pregnant, I’d rather get out and relax on a beach somewhere than deal with a bunch of randoms walking the streets.”
The trip was interrupted a few days later with news that Mayfield had been selected to his first Pro Bowl, replacing Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who withdrew due to injury.
“Timing-wise, it’s all good things,” Mayfield said on his way from practice Friday at Camping World Stadium. “(Emily’s) sister and her mom planned a baby shower for her in Omaha (Nebraska) so she’s flying in (Saturday). But it’s all good things. Luckily, I’m a third wheel with Trsitan (Wirfs) and (his wife) Meredith.”
On Wednesday, Mayfield and Wirfs, who also was summoned to the Pro Bowl to replace 49ers tackle Trent Williams, felt the queasiness that closely paralleled the Bucs’ up-and-down season.
“We did a couple roller-coaster rides the other night at Universal (Studios),” Mayfield said. “Unfortunately, the big guy didn’t fit on every one of them. But he’s a good support piece.”
Buckle up. This figures to be another topsy-turvy journey for Mayfield.
After coming off the best season of his career, having passed for 4,044 yards and 28 touchdowns and leading Tampa Bay to an NFC South title and wild-card win over the Eagles, Mayfield is holding on to hopes that remaining with the Bucs is an ever-increasing possibility.
On Friday, things took a big step in that direction when the Bucs began the process of hiring former Rams and University of Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen. On Saturday, the team agreed to terms with Coen.
A year ago, Coen closely worked with Mayfield during the five weeks he spent quarterbacking the Rams after being claimed off waivers from Carolina.
Did Mayfield have a lot of input in the Bucs’ decision to hire Coen?
“Not exactly,” Mayfield said. “It was more like, ‘Is he a good guy the certain year you were there?’ But they do enough of their own research.”
Mayfield said the ability to have some continuity in terms of the offensive system and familiarity with the offensive coordinator means a lot to him.
“It’s important to me,” Mayfield said. “I’ve had so many offensive coordinators to this point, to me it’s, ‘Okay if I do come back, let’s keep the continuity for the other guys, build on what we’ve already grown from and go from there.’ ”
Mayfield, however, made it clear that hiring Coen is only the first step.
While contract negotiations likely will begin to ramp up once Coen is aboard, Mayfield also makes no secret of the fact that the Bucs’ ability to re-sign receiver Mike Evans is just as important as the offensive coordinator.
The 30-year-old Pro Bowler, who skipped the events in Orlando due to an injury, also is a free agent and coming off one of the best seasons of his career with 79 catches for 1,255 yards and 13 touchdowns, which tied the Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill for the most in the NFL.
“I would love to be back with (Evans),” said Mayfield, “so there’s a lot of contingencies that go in that. Obviously, getting an OC, that helps. That’s Step 1. And (Evans) sees that so we can talk to him about it and see his thoughts. But we both have to do what’s best for us.”
Coen takes over for Dave Canales, who was hired as the Panthers’ head coach after only one year of calling plays in the NFL. Coen didn’t call plays for the Rams, but Mayfield learned enough about him to believe he will bring the same energy to the Bucs’ offensive meeting room as Canales.
“I just think he’s straight-forward,” Mayfield said. “I loved the system. Obviously, going to L.A. and then playing under Dave in a similar system, I love how it’s called. I love just the similar approach of how the run sets up the pass and different things like that.
“There’s a lot of integral parts. You can give different, complex looks to a defense. But Liam is smart how he wants to approach it. He’s got the mindset and he’s a hard worker and he’s very passionate about it. That energy — guys will feed off of that.”
The Bucs have some decisions to make regarding their free agents, starting with Mayfield. If the Bucs use the franchise player tag, it most likely will be reserved for safety Antoine Winfield Jr. But if they were able to sign Winfield to a long-term deal, they could even franchise Mayfield at $36.3 million on a one-year deal.
That might seem too rich for Mayfield, but not when you consider a year ago, Derek Carr singed a four-year deal with the Saints that averages $37.5 million. Reaching an agreement with Evans may prove more difficult. The Houston Chronicle reported Evans can expect to earn $25 million to $30 million per year. Davante Adams averages $28 million at age 31.
It’s hard to put an emotional value on the Bucs re-signing Mayfield.
“That would be huge, that’s my boy,” Wirfs said. “I think he likes it here and hopefully we do everything we can to get him back.”
Before leaving Friday’s Pro Bowl workout, Mayfield repeated his desire to remain in Tampa Bay.
“Same organization. Same mindset I had going into free agency last year,” he said. “And obviously, I love Tampa. I love everything about it.”
NFC vs. AFC, 3 p.m. Sunday
Camping World Stadium, Orlando
TV/Streaming: ABC, ESPN, ESPN+
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