As deadline nears, Bucs’ Evans seeking security

TAMPA, Fla. — Speaking for the first time since his agent gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a Saturday deadline for a new contract, wide receiver Mike Evans said Thursday he wants the security of a new deal so he can focus on the season.

“Obviously we’ve been working with them for over a year now, trying to get something done,” said Evans, who turned 30 last month and is entering his 10th season. “Any player in my position would want to be secure.”

Evans’ agent, Deryk Gilmore, said that if a deal cannot be reached before Saturday they would be done negotiating for the year. As of Thursday afternoon, with the Bucs finalizing their preparations for Week 1 at the Minnesota Vikings, no deal had been reached.

“I don’t know. We got a little bit of time left, but we’ll see,” said Evans, who has continued to practice this week and practiced this summer despite the contract situation because he said he didn’t want to leave new quarterback Baker Mayfield in a bind.

“I think as professionals, whenever you’re here, you go out and you play. I don’t know if there is a better example of that than Mike,” said wide receiver Chris Godwin, who Evans has mentored since 2017. “I feel like you wouldn’t even recognize it in the building because of the way he handles himself. Again, that’s a testament to him. He’s obviously a pro.”

With his current contract set to expire March 13, Evans, a four-time Pro Bowler, could hit the open market. The Bucs could theoretically re-sign him to a new deal, or they could franchise tag him, so it’s not a foregone conclusion that he’d be done with the Buccaneers after this season.

When asked if he would be open to returning next season if a deal didn’t get done this year, Evans said, “Ownership and management are going to do what they feel is best for the team and the team in the future, and I’m going to do what’s best for me and my future. And right now, that’s just playing some good ball.”

Gilmore said that the Bucs don’t want to pay two wide receivers $20 million. Godwin is currently in the second year of a three-year deal worth $60 million with $40 million guaranteed. But Evans said he does think it’s possible for the Bucs to pay both him and Godwin, one of Evans’ closest friends and teammates.

“I’d love it,” Godwin said when asked what it would mean for the Bucs to re-sign Evans. “He’s been my dog since we came in, or as soon as I got here. I would hate to see him go.”

There certainly are sentimental reasons to want to hold on to Evans, who has said that he wants to play his entire career in Tampa. He is Jason Licht’s first-ever draft pick as general manager, selecting Evans seventh overall in the 2014 NFL draft. And he owns virtually every Bucs’ franchise receiving record and has done so as a “homegrown” player.

He is the only NFL player to have recorded nine straight 1,000-yard seasons in his first nine years in the league and has the chance to tie Randy Moss this year for second all-time if he reaches the 1,000-yard mark again. He has been remarkably durable too, missing just nine regular-season games in nine seasons.

His philanthropic endeavors have made him not only one of the most visible members of the Tampa Bay community, but one of the most charitable athletes in the NFL. For three consecutive years he was the Bucs’ nominee for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

But the Bucs’ salary cap issues are well-documented, and they’re now bearing the brunt of borrowing $100 million against the future to support a Tom Brady Super Bowl run for three seasons. They currently lead the league with over $75 million in dead money, with high-profile players such as All-Pro left tackle Tristan Wirfs, Pro Bowl linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White, and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. up for new contracts, not to mention the possibility of Mayfield returning and landing a substantial deal if he performs well this season.

When asked if it was hard thinking about this possibly being his last season in Tampa, Evans said, “No. I’m blessed, man. I’ve been blessed to play this game for a really long time. Been a lot of plays, made a lot of money. It’s not even about that. I’m just happy to be in this position I am.”

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