Buccaneers’ NFC Rival Named ‘Best Team Fit’ for WR Mike Evans in 2024

Mike Evans

Getty Mike Evans could land with the Carolina Panthers.

As wide receiver Mike Evans’ future with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks ever more uncertain, an NFC South rival could take advantage.

ESPN’s Matt Bowen named the Carolina Panthers as the “best team fit” for Evans, who is headed for free agency in March. Bowen’s take comes less than 24 hours after Bleacher Report’s Jordan Schultz reported that Evans’ camp and the Buccaneers “remain far apart” in contract talks.

“Evans could follow Panthers coach Dave Canales to Carolina after he had 1,255 receiving yards and a league-leading 13 touchdown catches in the same offensive system last season in Tampa Bay,” Bowen wrote. “Evans is still playing at an extremely high level, and he’d be an immediate [and needed] upgrade for Panthers quarterback Bryce Young as a multiple-level target with red zone upside.”

It might not lead to more wins anytime soon as the Panthers went a dismal 2-15 in 2023, but Evans could find more money in Carolina. The Panthers have $30.23 million in salary cap space, and no free agents who command more than $11 million per year.

Buccaneers in a Pickle With Mike Evans

Tampa Bay has droves of key free agents, which could make it challenging for the Buccaneers to find a way to afford him amid $35.62 million in cap space.

Evans has a big asking price, based on Spotrac’s estimates of $23.8 million annually or a 4-year, $95.34 million deal. He currently has a 5-year, $82.5 million contract with the Buccaneers set to expire in March.

His agent set a contract talk deadline before Week 1 of the 2023 season, which the Buccaneers didn’t meet. Evans has expressed his desire to finish his career with the Buccaneers, and a former teammate, Rob Gronkowski, and current teammate, Baker Mayfield, lobbied for Evans during Super Bowl week.

Tampa Bay already took a “soft deadline” hit on Evans’ contract, $7.4 million dead cap hit for 2024 “by not getting a deal done” on Monday, Schultz reported. While “talks will continue” per Schultz, “Evans is trending toward becoming a free agent barring an unexpected change in discussions.”

Buccaneers Poised to Keep Other Key Free Agents

While neither Schultz nor Bowen paints a positive outlook for Evans’ future in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers looked poised to retain other key players based on the ESPN free agency projection. Bowen wrote the Buccaneers will keep Mayfield safety Antoine Winfield Jr., and longtime linebacker Lavonte David.

“Given Mayfield’s production over the second half of last season and some impressive playoff tape [two postseason games with over 300 passing yards], there will be free agent interest for the veteran quarterback. But in this new Tampa Bay system — which will fit his aggressive throwing mentality behind defined play-action concepts and schemed verticals — I think Mayfield could keep posting big numbers,” Bowen wrote.

Bowen noted that Winfield is “entering his peak playing years”, and it therefore behooves to re-sign a young player who “played a key role in Todd Bowles’ defensive system as a three-level defender.” Winfield’s career numbers speak for themselves as Bowen pointed out — 15 sacks, seven interceptions, and 11 forced fumbles.

As for David, Bowen projects a 1-year deal for the longtime veteran. Bowen called him “a key player in Bowles’ defense” who “can key and diagnose with speed at the second level and join the front as a blitzer.”

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