This isn’t personal, Mike Evans, it’s strictly good business for Bucs

TAMPA — Forget his age. Forget the odds. Forget the game’s history.

If Mike Evans believes he can still be an elite receiver in the NFL beyond his 31st birthday, I suggest you do not doubt him. He has been that talented, dedicated and trustworthy on the field.

If he wants another big contract with lots of guaranteed money that takes him into his mid-30s, I wish only the best for him. He has been that dignified, generous and loyal in the community.

And if he wants the team to make him an offer before his agent’s self-imposed deadline this weekend, I hope the Bucs pass.

You see, this is not just about Mike Evans. It’s about where the Bucs are as a franchise. It’s about the salary cap. It’s about Devin White, Antoine Winfield Jr., Tristan Wirfs and the next generation of Tampa Bay stars who are ready to get paid.

What happens if the Bucs guarantee Evans another $70 million, and he gets hurt before the extension even kicks in for 2024? Or his production drops off? Or the Bucs go 5-12 and decide a more comprehensive rebuild is necessary?

Additional information is never a bad thing, and 10 weeks from now we’ll know more about where this Bucs roster stands. We’ll know if the Baker Mayfield reclamation project worked, and whether he’s worth signing to a long-term deal. We’ll know if Chris Godwin is all the way back from his knee injury. We’ll know if the Bucs have a shot at the playoffs, or whether the focus has already turned toward the draft.

Putting off contract talks until Evans is on the cusp of free agency is risky. It could end up costing the Bucs a lot more money to re-sign him if he has another big season or, even worse, it could cost them the greatest receiver in franchise history if he signs elsewhere.

But that’s a risk worth taking when a player is 30 and the roster is not Super Bowl-ready.

Because of the salary cap, NFL owners and general managers cannot afford to be as sentimental as fans. Sure, it would be great to see Evans play his entire career in a Bucs jersey, but not if a new contract becomes an albatross on a rebuilding team.

Do I think Evans is heading for a fall? Absolutely not. Nine years into his career, there has been no discernible dropoff in his game. Through his first 67 games in Tampa Bay, Evans had 349 receptions for 5,170 yards and 35 touchdowns. In the next 68 games, he had 334 receptions for 5,255 yards and 46 touchdowns.

And it’s not unheard of for a wideout to perform at a high level beyond age 31, which is when a new extension would kick in. Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Terrell Owens, Cris Carter, Marvin Harrison all had multiple 1,000-yard seasons in their 30s. Of course, you might have noticed that they all played a generation ago.

In recent years, only Larry Fitzgerald and tight end Travis Kelce were putting those type of seasons together in back-to-back fashion.

Having said that, I’d be surprised if Evans did not have another 1,000-yard season in 2023. But he’s supposedly looking for a Cooper Kupp-type three-year deal, and that means a potential salary cap hit in the $26-27 million range beginning in 2024. The odds of that kind of deal aging well are dicey, at best. And, even if Evans meets or exceeds expectations, the Bucs might not be in the right situation salary cap-wise to make it worthwhile.

Once upon a time, the Bucs did right by Evans. When they signed him to his current contract in 2018, he got more guaranteed money than any receiver in NFL history. That guarantee was surpassed by Odell Beckham Jr. a few months later, and has since been topped by eight other receivers, but the commitment was there. Across nine seasons in Tampa Bay, Evans has made more than $100 million in salary.

So, no, this isn’t about loyalty and it’s not necessarily about being cheap. The Bucs have a responsibility to run the franchise in the best interests of the future and their fans. And guaranteeing a boatload of money to an older player a year before necessary is probably not a sound business decision.

It would undoubtedly be depressing to see Evans move on from Tampa Bay, but that’s the nature of the business. Players want to get paid, and owners want to get the best value for their dollar. That’s how Rice ended up in Oakland and Seattle. That’s why Carter finished with a forgettable season in Miami, and Randy Moss played for four different teams in his final two seasons.

If the Bucs do not offer Evans an extension by the end of the week, it’s not because they do not appreciate him or want him or respect him. It’s because they’re looking out for the future. Same as Mike Evans.

John Romano can be reached at Follow at @romano_tbtimes.

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