Bucs place franchise tag on Antoine Winfield Jr.

TAMPA — Antoine Winfield Jr. never gave up on a play last season and he will continue to chase a long-term contract with the Bucs.

The All Pro safety received the franchise player tag, guaranteeing him a one-year deal worth $17.123 million for 2024, the Tampa Bay Times confirmed Tuesday.

But the Bucs and Winfield will continue to negotiate a long-term contract extension, so the designation represents a place-holder until a new pact is reached.

It’s similar to the move the Bucs made the second time they applied the tag to receiver Chris Godwin in 2022. Godwin eventually was signed to a three-year, $60 million contract less than two weeks after receiving the designation. The Bucs could have used the franchise player tag on quarterback Baker Mayfield. But that would have counted $38.3 million against the salary cap immediately.

The Bucs are slowly chipping away at a laundry list of free-agent signings.

On Monday, receiver Mike Evans chose not to test free agency by agreeing to a two-year, $52 million contract.

Winfield is coming off his best season as a pro. He had 122 tackles, led all defensive backs with six sacks, had three interceptions, forced six fumbles — most in the NFL — and recovered four. That included a game-sealing interception in a win over Carolina, a sack/forced fumble recovered by the Bucs for a safety in a win at Atlanta and a sack/forced fumble/fumble recovery during the season-opener at Minnesota.

Bucs coach Todd Bowles recently was asked what separates Winfield from other safeties. “It’s his practice habits,” Bowles said. “The way he takes it from the meeting to the practice field to the game. He really applies it. He practices like he plays. He doesn’t practice to practice. He practices playing the game so when the game comes around, it’s pretty easy for him.”

Also on Tuesday, the Bucs signed receiver Deven Thompkins and offensive lineman Brandon Walton to one-year deals. Both were exclusive-rights free agents and could not sign with other teams.

The Bucs have more work to do prior to the start of free agency March 13. In addition to continuing to negotiate with Winfield, they would like to re-sign Mayfield, linebacker Lavonte David (if he doesn’t retire) and kicker Chase McLaughlin.

Mike Evans’ contract has base value of $41 million

When Evans signed a two-year contract extension, agent Deryk Gilmore reported its value at $52 million with $35 million guaranteed.

But the deal is actually two years, $41 million with $11 million coming in the form of performance incentives and escalators, according to Pro Football Talk.

Evans will earn $23 million guaranteed in 2024. He’s due to make $18 million in 2025, but only $6 million is fully guaranteed and $6 million is guaranteed for injury.

A more realistic way to look at it is as a $20.5 million annual average, which is $500,000 more than Chris Godwin will earn in 2024. The deal also has $29 million fully guaranteed at signing.

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