SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. EVANS READY TO LEAD, READY FOR CONTRACT EXTENSION
Despite being in Mobile, Ala. covering the Reese’s Senior Bowl I’ve been thinking of Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans, who is exactly 500 miles away in Orlando, Fla. at his first NFL Pro Bowl.

PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook is covering Evans’ first Pro Bowl and Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy’s fifth this week while Trevor Sikkema and Andrew Scavelli and I are scouting Bucs draft prospects while trying to catch up with general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter for some quick interviews.

Even though Evans never played in the Senior Bowl – he left Texas A&M after his redshirt sophomore season – Evans is on the minds of Koetter and Licht, who may begin contract extension talks with Evans’ representatives later this year, and on the lips of some of the game’s talented wide receivers.

Bucs WR Mike Evans and QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“That would be a dream come true to be on the other side of Mike and catch passes from Jameis Winston,” Western Kentucky wide receiver Taywan Taylor said. “Jameis is a born leader. You can see that about him. He brings energy and I would feed off that. And Mike is just amazing. To learn from a guy like that would be amazing.”

Taylor has interviewed with the Bucs, as has Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who had a great week in Mobile.

“They have some great players down in Tampa,” Kupp said. “Mike Evans, what he’s been able to do in the last few years, is incredible. He just continued each year to get better and better. I’m not sure how he’s like in the offseason, but based on what I’ve seen he’s got to be putting in that time to make sure he’s the best that he can be because he continues to get better. I’ve seen the growth in Jameis and how he’s been able to run that team down there. It’s a very impressive organization. I’d love to be a part of it.”

Licht, Koetter and the team’s scouts are looking for another playmaking receiver – or two – to pair with Evans because as good of a season as he had catching a career-high 96 passes for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns, he faced so many double teams over the last five games of the season that it limited his production. Evans had four 100-yard receiving games in 2016 and three near misses (99 yards at Atlanta, 96 yards at San Francisco and 97 yards at New Orleans), but he was limited to 65 yards or less in four of Tampa Bay’s last five games because of the increased attention he received down the stretch.

Evans was held to four catches or less in four of Tampa Bay’s last eight games. Tight end Cameron Brate and wide receiver Adam Humphries stepped up with career years after Vincent Jackson was placed on injured reserve after the Bucs’ 17-14 victory in Carolina on Monday Night Football, a game in which Evans caught a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the Bucs need another dynamic playmaker opposite Evans. That could come in free agency in the form of a veteran like DeSean Jackson or a draft pick like Washington’s John Ross, Kupp, Taylor or another rookie.

Whoever the Bucs add, the team’s most accomplished receiver and the leader of Tampa Bay’s wide receiver room will be a 23-year old kid, who’s three 1,000-yard seasons to start his career have put the league on notice that he’s one of the best pass catchers in the NFL. Jackson, who turned 34 in mid-January, won’t be re-signed and the leadership role will fall on Evans’ shoulders.

Evans is ready to lead, and he’ll likely wear a “C” on his chest next year, replacing Jackson as a Bucs’ team captain.

“Time has flown,” Evans said. “It’s flying by, but it’s been a good thing that I’ve had a good successor, V-Jax, you know he passed the torch to me, taught me a lot about the game and being a professional. I owe him a lot. And you know, I hope I’m the same for the next guy.

Bucs WRs Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson – Photo by: Cliff Welch

“I know V-Jax was a lot older. If we draft a guy, we might be the same age or I might be a year older. I just want to help any way I can with their experience.”

Koetter thinks Evans will take his leadership to the next level in 2017.

“Oh yeah, Mike is definitely ready to lead,” Koetter said. “Leadership comes in a lot of different shapes and sizes.”

Evans’ Pro Bowl experience this week is something else he can share and pass on to younger receivers on the roster and the ones Tampa Bay has yet to draft, but don’t expect Evans to turn into a vocal leader like Winston. Instead, he’ll take a cue from Jackson, his mentor for the past three years, and lead by example with some words of wisdom sprinkled in from time to time.

“Me and V-Jax, we’re both silent leaders,” Evans said. “He gets vocal sometimes, I’ll get vocal sometimes, but it’s rare. We have other guys. I’m vocal enough. I’m a leader, but not on the lines of Jameis and Gerald.”

In just three years in Tampa Bay, Evans has caught 238 passes for 3,578 yards and 27 touchdowns. He set the franchise record for touchdown catches in a single season as a rookie in 2014 and then matched it this year.

With 175 passes thrown his way, Evans was the most targeted receiver in the league and he finished fourth in receiving yards this year. In 2016, Evans caught 81 passes for first downs in the 2016 season, which was 15 more than any other NFL receiver.

A tremendous season, right?

“I don’t feel that way,” Evans told me. “I think my season has been just okay. I know I made the Pro Bowl, and that’s a cool accomplishment, but other than that, I mean, I feel I played all right, but I feel I could’ve played better. This offseason I got a lot of work to do – a lot of work.”

While Koetter and Licht are looking to help Evans in 2017 by finding a replacement for Jackson to help shoulder some of the receiving load, Evans is looking inward to help the Bucs with an even better year in 2018.

“I want to put our receivers and our guys in the best position to win, and I want them to benefit in whatever way that may be,” Evans said. “Whether it’s teaching our younger guys how to run routes or hanging with them, getting that continuity. Whatever I’ve got to do to give this team the best chance they have to win is what I’m, going to do.”

When the time comes to talk contract extension, which will come at some point this year, Evans will be making over $15 million per year. That’s Julio Jones-type money.

Jones, who is considered the best receiver in the league right now, signed a five-year, $71.25 million contract in 2015 that averages $14.25 million per season. The Bucs would be wise to get something done this year before he hits free agency and competes with the likes of Odell Beckham, Jr. for a new deal, which will only drive the market up if both are in contract seasons after a possible fifth-year option in 2018.

Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“I’m not worried about that stuff,” Evans said of a possible contract extension in 2017. “It’ll come, but I’m mainly focused on getting better and helping this team win.”

Evans would trade his Pro Bowl accolades and gaudy stats for more wins and a trip to the playoffs. He’s as team-oriented a guy, as you’ll find in the Bucs’ locker room. Of course he’s got a little bit of selfishness in him because Evans is a receiver, but he’s no diva. The only reason the 6-foot-5, 230-pound man-child wants the rock is because he knows he’s going to dominate and win the game for his teammates.

Evans made some tremendous strides from a year ago when he only caught three touchdowns and was among the league leaders in drops.

“I mean, I’ve got good hands,” Evans said. “I just had a down year last year, but I know I have real good hands. I’m proud of the way I’ve taken coaching. Coach [Todd] Monken is a great coach. One of the best receiving coaches, maybe the best receiving coach I’ve ever had. He’s so smart, even thought he never played receiver he just understands it so much. It’s helped me a lot. I’ve had a lot of good receiver coaches, he might be the best one.”

Despite his early success, Monken believes Evans is just scratching the surface and that there is an entirely new level he can take his game to with more work and refinement.

“I think he’s bending a little bit better in his routes,” Monken said. “He’s learning certain things, route running, it’s going to come in small pieces. He’s got to continue to attack it every day. He’s more consistent with his hand placement and his eyes when he’s catching the football, you can see that. So, those are the things you continually work on with him and he’s eager to learn and eager to stay out there and work at it.

“That’s probably the most important thing, you have an unbelievable skill-set, he’s smart, now what are you willing to put in to be – you’re already one of the best in the world, now that shrinks down, do you want to be considered one of the elite to ever play this game? And he has that kind of skill-set.”

After missing one game in each of his first two seasons, Evans played in all 16 games last year. He attributes losing 10 pounds to staying healthier, but he wants to continue to refine his body this offseason.

Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“Durability, man,” Evans said. “I know I’ll have injuries here and there, but I want my body to be super strong to prevent injuries like that. You know, ankle injuries, little knee things here and there. Stuff like that that’s affected me these few years. I want to be as durable as I can. I’ve come out of some plays in games this past year because I’ve twisted my ankle and things like that. It’s happened like three times this year. I just want to be as durable as I can so I can help my team.”

Evans ended a memorable season in dramatic fashion, catching the game-winning, 10-yard touchdown pass from Winston with 3:13 left in Tampa Bay’s 17-16 win over Carolina.

“Just how a lot of my touchdowns were, Jameis scrambling and making something out of nothing and me doing a good scramble drill route. He made a great play escaping the pocket. I was impressed; everybody was calm. We figured we wanted to win. Nobody was complaining or anything like that. We just kept playing, and we got a hard-fought win.

“We wanted to start the 2017 year off with a win, and hopefully this will roll over to next season. We wanted to win it bad, we talked about it all week. We wanted to go out a winner. This is the first day of 2017, and we wanted to get a win and we did that.”

Winston lauded Evans for his touchdown catch and his sensational season.

“A lot needs to be made over Mike Evans because he’s arguably one of the best receivers in the league and he doesn’t get credit the way he should,” Winston said. “I don’t really know why.”

With a Pro Bowl berth and a contract extension that should likely come in the summer prior to the start of the regular season, Evans is getting his just due. And he’s only getting started.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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SaskBucs
4 years ago

I think everyone knows Evans will be getting paid, only a matter of time. Verner being gone seems like a no brainer, makes to much to be a depth player and we have…. 5 CBs on the roster without him? (Hargreaves, Grimes, Robinson, Smith, Barija) It is nice to hear the names of guys rising at the Senior Bowl since I do not have much familiarity and I understand a lot will still change between now and the draft, but can you tell me who is falling? Is a guy like QB Watson going to fall for not playing? (Not… Read more »

chetthevette
4 years ago

Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu is one to watch at the NFL Scouting Combine next month. Melifonwu generated a ton of buzz at the Senior Bowl due to his 6-foot-4, 219-pound size and fluidity, and is expected to be a top performer at the Combine as he has workout warrior-type athleticism.

I think Scott is having big fun highlighting plays with unpronounceable names.
I know I’m having fun with all these names too.
OBI WAN it is.
MAY THE FORCE BE WITH THE BUCS

macabee
4 years ago

Over The Cap (OTC) has 2017 Bucs cap space at 65.1mil. Assume these possible cuts are made: Doug Martin 7mil, Alterraun Verner 6.5mil, Evan Smith 4.5mil, and George Johnson 2.25mil (total 20.25mil). Buc cap space could be 85.35mil (65.1mil + 20.25mil).

That is enough money to re-sign our own key FAs, extend WR Mike Evans, set aside 7mil for the draft, and have plenty left for early Christmas shopping in free agency!

http://overthecap.com/salary-cap-space/ (click on Buccaneers)

thewbacca
Reply to  macabee
4 years ago

I for one hope they carry as much cap money as possible forward to next year because there are going to be some huge salaries in the future. Be nice to not be cash strapped when Winston gets paid and be able to continue to add talent.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  macabee
4 years ago

Amen to that. I don’t love the idea of cutting Doug, but I’m on board with the rest of those, which still gives us more than $75M in space. I also think Scott overestimated a handful of the contracts our free agent players will get. Rodgers won’t get more than $3.5M, and I’ll be very surprised if he gets even that much. I also think Gholston won’t get more than that $5M per range that Scott listed as his low end of his estimate. Hawley’s number is WAY too big, considering he’s mostly played like crap for two years as… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Scott Reynolds
4 years ago

@scott, don’t you think we have great leverage to at least get him to agree to take less than he’s scheduled to make, though? The hard fact is that if he was a free agent today, exactly 0 teams would even consider offering him a deal in the neighborhood of the $4.5M he’s scheduled to make this year. I mean, come on – that’s mid level starting center money. I’m not saying we should strong arm him and try to back him into taking a super cheap deal, but why should we be in a hurry to pay a backup… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  toofamiliar17
4 years ago

Actually, sorry, when I said 11 guys make more than him, that was when looking at averages over the course of their whole contracts. At an average value remaining of $4.5M, I’m pretty sure Smith is actually only behind 10 centers.

e
e
4 years ago

Hey Scott, on a complete tangent; I saw that the Boston Celtics are the first team in any of the major U.S. sports leagues that is going to be sporting the GE logo on their uniforms in 2018. What’s your thoughts on that becoming a reality on NFL uniforms in the future?

MudManVA
4 years ago

Nice reporting from the Senior Bowl. Can’t wait until Wednesday for the 2nd mock draft!!
In Licht we trust! Go BUCS

Buc 1976
4 years ago

GET MIKE SIGNED!!

stlbucsfan
4 years ago

My pick OJ Howard had a dominant week of practice at the Senior Bowl. The presence of receivers like Reynolds is the very reason the Bucs should pass on Davis in round 1. We can get quality at WR past the 1st round.

CDNBUCSFAN
4 years ago

Nice job between yourself and Trevor there Scott, really appreciate the updates and insight. Yes let’s get Mike Evans extended sooner rather than later. I’d like another big target on the other side with a similar stature that can not only take the double off of Evans but also provide another target in the Red Zone. We have the slot receiver in Hump and the sure handed Brate at TE, so a solid 3 down back would be great to have. Certainly glad that you’re covering the Senior Bowl and providing us with mock drafts. I like the amount of… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Scott Reynolds
4 years ago

I’m glad to hear the team wants competition at that backup QB spot. But that does kinda beg the question – if he wasn’t going to be the clear long term answer as our backup, then why did the team invest two years of a roster spot and the pay that comes with it into him? Honestly asking here. Has he underachieved what they thought he’d become?

cgmaster27
4 years ago

Big Mike is an amazing receiver. He is a perfect compliment to Jameis and vise versa. He will get his money , no doubt, and I like the way he answered the question WAY better than the way Hawley did. Big Mike will go down in history as the Bucs best receiver, baring injury. His natural gifts can’t be taught and the fact is, he’s only been playing organized football for about 4 years now. He will only get better as he improves his route running a bit. That is the only area I see need for improvement. Better pop… Read more »

martinii
4 years ago

Get Mike signed. It is important to get your top playmakers extended first. Then if you have read any of my draft related post over the past two months you know that one of the top defensive picks IMO is the beast out of Villanova, Tanoh Kpassagnon. I have watched a lot of film on this guy and I am convinced he is the real deal. There are several options on offense but the team that lands this kid will get a real steal. On CBS Draft Scout he jumped 100 places in one week. Pewter and only a few… Read more »

macabee
Reply to  martinii
4 years ago
macabee
Reply to  Scott Reynolds
4 years ago

No need to reply Scott, but I wanted to say you’re right because I did exactly that in my mock draft to be posted in your Wednesday mock. I think Kpassagnon (K) is a 3rd round pick, but I put him in the 2nd round because I think by the time the Bucs pick in RD3, he will be gone. His physical presence will get him over-drafted. But I believe if the Bucs re-sign Gholston, K could be developed in to an effective pass rush piece. If Spence could move to a stand-up OLB pass rusher, this defense could be… Read more »

Brandonges
4 years ago

I really enjoyed Fab 4. I love all the contract speculating this time of year. I know it’s entirely too early to talk about other teams free agents, but it’s the offseason and I’m anxious. Any chance the Bucs could go after a prized blue chip guy like Eric Berry? I think he would pair very well with Tandy and give the Bucs a stud at each level of the defense. He seems like a player that would be worth breaking the bank over.

GrafikDetail
4 years ago

Taywan Taylor wants to be in Tampa also! really wants to play with Jameis & in Dirk’s offense

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Scott Reynolds
4 years ago

I can only figure to call that the Jameis effect. One great thing about having a young, charismatic leader at QB is that other players in and heading into the league take notice of guys like that. I tend to think that Jameis will be the reason plenty of guys choose to come here when they’re close on a couple places over future seasons. It’s pretty cool, I think, to have that kind of presence leading your franchise.

Horse
4 years ago

Good Article Scott. I’m not sure why we want to spend 5-7 million on Gohston and 3 million on Hawley. I believe there is enough tape to question that thought. We definitely need another Center than Hawley and I would try to find a Free Agent to fill those shoes or another team member as there’s enough talent at a cheaper price. Same for WR in the 1st round; I’d rather draft a CB or DL or Center. I’ll be out of the country for awhile so I hope when I come back we have signed some free agents, some… Read more »

scubog
Reply to  Horse
4 years ago

Adios amigo! Enjoy your trip Horse.

chetthevette
4 years ago

After cutting the deadwood out BUCS should have a ton of cap space.
I think that Corderell Patterson might be a really good FA pickup.
I think we should be aggressive in singing either Donteri Poe or Kwan Short.
The draft can then be BPA.
GO BUCS

toofamiliar17
Reply to  chetthevette
4 years ago

Reports abound of Patterson not being a good worker or student of the game, not putting in the effort needed on gameplanning or the playbook, which is why he really hasn’t developed at all over the course of his time in Minny. No thanks, I’ll pass.

Buc 1976
4 years ago

The only FA the Bucs should pay big $$$ to is KCity S E Barry if he is available. I have seen enough of B. McD as a starter, as a backup ok. I really liked C Davis,but after seeing other WR in E-W game and Senior bowl highlights a WR in second rd. Or third rd may very well be the way to go. If OJH is available at 19 TAKE HIM!! He almost has WR speed & can BLOCK ! Off course we still need to se what happens in FA. Go Bucs

toofamiliar17
4 years ago

(1) Obviously we need to keep Evans in Tampa. That should go without even needing to be said. That said, we shouldn’t just waste our negotiating leverage to make him feel good. As of right now, we’ve got him for at least two more seasons – next year and his 2018 5th year option year. And really, we know that we can franchise him in 2019 if need be, so the first time we could conceivably be forced to lose him is 2020. In football terms, that’s a very, very far way away. I’m not saying we should use all… Read more »

toofamiliar17
4 years ago

(2) I’m totally open to continuing to add not only DE help, but also help at CB. I wouldn’t even mind using early round selections on either or both positions if the board breaks right. What feels like a strength today can easily be a major, desperate need tomorrow. Right now, we feel good at DE. But Spence is still something of an unknown, Jac Smith is coming off that knee injury and was never a complete player anyways, and Ayers is about to turn 32. We could blink and suddenly be nearly out of pass rushing threats off the… Read more »

drdneast
4 years ago

Since Martins guaranteed payout contract is now void, they could essentially leave it the same and it would into a year by year prove it deal. I see no reason to cut Martin and get nothing in return and then having to turn around and draft another RB and use a needed draft pick to replace him which could be used for another area of need. I had no problem with the Bucs getting rid of ASJ like that but Martin is trying to rehabilitate and correct his problem which is more than ASJ has ever tried to do. Like… Read more »