If this is the end for him in Tampa Bay Mike Evans went out in style
The season has ended in Tampa Bay, and that’s a shame.
The question is whether the final whistle Sunday also signaled the end of an era.
Mike Evans is a free man today. And, presumably, a wanted man. The greatest offensive player in Tampa Bay history is about to hit free agency after an NFL-record 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career.
The Bucs want him back, although the salary cap will be a factor. Evans said all the right things after Sunday’s 31-23 loss to the Lions in a division-round game, but he did not commit one way or the other.
“Not a lot of guys finish with one team so that will be amazing if I get to do that but, you know, we’ll see. I’m still trying to get over this loss.”
Evans, 30, seemed disappointed back in the summer when he was unable to come to terms on a contract extension with the Bucs.
He essentially bet on himself, and came up a winner with an NFL-leading 13 touchdown receptions and 1,255 yards in the regular season.
“He’s a stud,” said quarterback Baker Mayfield. “I mean, the guy hasn’t regressed at all. As much as everyone wants to talk about his age, I think he had one of his best years. He makes my life easy, he did all year. He did it today, over and over again.”
Evans had a ball go off his hands on Tampa Bay’s first drive Sunday, and it eventually was intercepted and led to a Detroit field goal. After that, he put together a vintage Evans performance with eight receptions for 147 yards and one touchdown.
“I don’t know if I can say enough about Mike,” said receiver Chris Godwin. “From the time I got here, he’s been there. Been a great example not only in the way he handles himself, but also with anything I need he’s there for me, whether it’s advice on the field or off the field. I look at Mike like an older brother.”
Pro Football Focus has Evans ranked as the No. 3 free-agent receiver available this spring behind Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman Jr., with a projected contract of three years and $69 million.
Devin White is also a free agent, but does not appear to be a high priority for the Bucs after he essentially was replaced in the starting lineup by K.J. Britt in the postseason.
Evans is far and away Tampa Bay’s all-time leader in receptions, yards. And receiving touchdowns and is also climbing some of the NFL’s all-time lists. He is one of five players to have started more than 150 games in a Bucs uniform.
“I would love to be back, I love Tampa Bay,” he said. “Been here my whole career. The city has been great to me, the franchise has been unbelievable to me and my family. I love this place. So, we’ll see.”
His contributions to Tampa Bay have not been confined to the playing field. Evans is a three-time nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. Given to the player who does the most for his community. He’s donated money for COVID relief efforts, paid medical. And funeral bills for local residents, established a scholarship program for low-income residents and led voter registration drives.
Considering his long-time ties to Tampa Bay, could Evans walk away from the Bucs without regrets?
“There’s always plays I think about that I could have had to help us win more games. But I definitely gave it all I had. Physically and mentally.”