Last year as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were signing big-name free agents like wide receiver DeSean Jackson, defensive tackle Chris Baker and safety J.J. Wilcox, Bucs general manager Jason Licht still operated with the awareness that a few of their young guys were going to be hitting their own big contracts soon.
One of those players was wide receiver Mike Evans.
Evans has been a focal point of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive identity since the team drafted him No. 7 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. Since day one, Evans has ruled the aerial attack of those who have tried to stop him. He’s recorded over 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first four seasons, and is already No. 3 all-time in the franchise’s record book for most receiving yards by a Buccaneer – with health on his side, he’ll be the franchise’s best receiver of all-time as he closes out his rookie deal.
With accolades like that, Evans is sure to cash out in a big way. But, as the time draws near, the question centers on when that pay day will happen. Evans’ agent, Deryk Gilmore of Day 1 Sports & Entertainment, told PewterReport.com that he and his client are in no rush. Last year, the Bucs picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract and he is set to play the 2018 season making $13.2 million.
“We’re not doing any negotiating (right now). We’re just going to wait and play it out,” Gilmore said. “We think that the Buccaneers are a great organization. We feel that they really care about Mike; they care about the direction of the franchise and where it’s going.”
Beyond the yards, Evans has plenty of other Buccaneer records under his belt in just four seasons of play – and just 24 years of age. Evans holds the franchise record for most receiving touchdowns in a season (12 – twice), most receiving touchdowns by a rookie in a season (12), currently has the most receiving yards per game in a career (75.4) and most consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons with four.
“He’s under contract so what we like to do is let him finish up,” Gilmore said. “We think [Evans’ stats and records] will speak for itself, and when it comes time to do the deal I think his deal will be in-line with what we plan.”
That may be what Evans and his camp are comfortable with, but the Bucs decision makers, both general manger Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg, the team’s capologist, like to plan ahead – that’s why Tampa Bay has one of the healthiest salary caps in the NFL. Planning ahead often deals with striking while a market is favorable and, in turn, securing your talent at the same time. It’s a balance of getting the most bang for you buck, if you will. However, at this time, as it pertains to Evans, if there is a plan to extend him this summer before his rookie contract runs out, that plan hasn’t come forward yet.
“If the Bucs come to us with something we’re going to evaluate it. But, at this point, we have not heard from them,” Gilmore said. “I have a great relationship with both Jason and Mike Greenberg. We talk often about a variety of things, but, at this point, we’re not really talking about contracts. We’re just letting it play out.”
When it comes to contracts in the NFL, the point and counterpoint among agents and teams often stems from what other players around the league are commanding in terms of monetary value. If one player is similar to a client in terms of roster importance and potential compensation, that’s often either a starting point or a middle ground for both sides to consider. When asked whether there were any wide receivers who have signed recently that Gilmore is keeping a close eye on when it comes to Evans’ future negotiations, he said yes, but went even further than just wide receivers when it came to determining Evans’ value.
“I look at every single deal that comes through whether it’s a wide receiver or even a quarterback,” Gilmore said. “One of the things that’s smart to say is that you look at Jimmy Garoppolo and if we said name the top five quarterbacks in the league it wouldn’t be Jimmy Garoppolo, but he’s paid the highest. If you look at that … I consider Mike [Evans] to be one of the top five players in the league.”
It’s unlikely that Evans will be signing a deal close to the one Garoppolo signed as the league’s highest paid player because he’s not a quarterback, but in terms of becoming the league’s highest-paid receiver, that could very much in reach for Evans.
Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown is currently the highest paid receiver per year, making $17 million per season with the Steelers. Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins has the largest contract value at $81 million over six years, averaging $16.2 million. Atlanta’s Julio Jones is the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFC South division, and the fifth-highest paid receiver in the league, averaging $14.25 million per season.
Still, the question remains, when will it happen? Sooner may be better than later for some, but it always takes two to strike a deal.