Mike Evans could be the disgruntled star the New York Jets have been waiting for
Just yesterday, New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas was asked about the possibility of his team pursuing aggressive acquisitions during the season. He replied, “You just have to be ready when the time comes. … We’ve got great flexibility if that presents itself.”
Perhaps the time has come.
The lowdown on Mike Evans’ situation
Four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans is nearing an impasse with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 30-year-old wideout is in the final year of a five-year contract and has expressed interest in signing a new contract to remain in Tampa Bay. It’s an interest the team has reciprocated – at least publicly. Behind the scenes, it seems to be a different story.
On Friday morning, Evans’ agent told NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo that he will cut off contract negotiations with the Buccaneers on September 9 (one day before the season opener) if a new deal is not agreed upon before then. Evans’ agent also said that Evans has not received an offer for a new contract with Tampa Bay.
Statement from Mike Evans’ agent @DerykGilmore of @Day1SportsEnt stating he’s “informed the #Buccaneers
organization that we will discontinue contract discussions” on Sept 9 after which “Mike’s focus will be on football and his future and where he can continue to make an impact.” pic.twitter.com/4XoTCjpjlu
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) September 1, 2023
In a subtle yet telling comment, Evans’ agent hinted at Evans moving on from the Buccaneers. He stated that if Evans does not receive a new contract by the start of the season, Evans’ “focus will be on football and his future and where he can continue to make an impact.”
Furthermore, Evans’ agent stated, “Mike wants the next phase of his career to be with an organization who wants him and wants him to help win a Super Bowl.”
Why would the Buccaneers trade Evans?
The Buccaneers are entering a rebuilding stage after the retirement of Tom Brady. They currently have the fourth-worst Super Bowl odds at DraftKings Sportsbook (+10000) and recently saw their outlook become even more bleak as they placed Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen on season-ending injured reserve.
It will likely be at least a few years until the Buccaneers are contenders again, so it makes sense why they are showing hesitancy to extend the 30-year-old Evans. He doesn’t match their timeline. Moving Evans to a championship contender would make sense for both sides. Tampa Bay can recoup value to supplement the rebuild while Evans can get another shot at a title before he retires.
While the Buccaneers could hold onto Evans for the 2023 season and let him walk in 2024 to receive a compensatory draft pick, there is a big reason why that probably would not be ideal. Players with at least 10 years of experience cannot yield a compensatory draft pick earlier than the fifth round. Evans is in his 10th season.
This could motivate Tampa Bay to trade Evans in 2023 rather than let him walk in free agency. Most likely, the Buccaneers can get something better than a fifth-round pick if they trade Evans this year.
Plus, it’s not as if the Buccaneers are developing a young quarterback and could use Evans to help him out. Baker Mayfield is starting for the Buccaneers. He is not the long-term answer.
Tampa Bay doesn’t need QB-supplementing offensive talent in the same way that a rebuilding team like Indianapolis, Houston, or Carolina does. Those teams are developing high-investment young quarterbacks and need quality offensive pieces to give their young QBs the best environment to succeed. The Bucs aren’t in that spot. Their QB of the future isn’t in Tampa Bay yet. They don’t have the motivation to commit significant long-term cap space to a player who will be in his mid-thirties by the time they are ready to compete.
For many reasons, a Mike Evans trade has suddenly become a very real possibility. But why would the Jets inquire? And could they even pull it off?
Why would the Jets want Evans?
The Jets could use some help at wide receiver. After the retirement of Corey Davis, the Jets’ WR depth chart beyond Garrett Wilson looks average. New York’s offense can still thrive as-is thanks to the magnificence of Wilson and their depth at the other offensive skill positions. Still, there are a number of AFC contenders with stronger WR depth than New York now that Davis is gone. The Jets are less prepared to survive without their No. 1 receiver than many of their fellow title contenders.
Aaron Rodgers took a massive pay cut so the Jets can add as much talent as possible to compete for a championship. Evans would be a tremendous usage of those freed-up dollars.
Coming off his ninth consecutive 1,000-yard season, Evans is a model of consistency who has not shown any signs of slowing down. He would be the star WR2 the Jets are missing. Adding him would put the Jets on par with (or ahead of) the other star-studded one-two punches in the AFC, such as Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle in Miami, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins in Cincinnati, or Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk in Jacksonville.
Evans would fit perfectly in the Jets’ offense for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the 6-foot-5, 231-pound beast would be an ideal complement to Wilson since the two players offer very different skill sets. The Jets’ offense would be greatly diversified by the addition of Evans. Wilson brings the speed, separation, and shiftiness while Evans brings the size and physicality. Between these two players alone, the Jets can cover just about any route type or catch type in the book.
It would also be highly beneficial for Wilson to have another star who could divert attention away from him. While Wilson is fully capable of handling a Davante Adams-esque workload, gobbling up more than 10 targets per game, he is the Jets’ only truly intimidating threat right now. Teams are going to try to double him as much as possible.
Without a second star on the field, doubling Wilson could be an effective strategy. But if the Jets add someone like Evans, teams will not be able to do that and live to tell the tale. They’re going to have to man up across the board and pick their poison – or else Evans will simply bully his man in one-on-one situations.
Moreover, Evans would allow the rest of the Jets’ receivers to slide into more comfortable roles. Allen Lazard could be the WR3, Mecole Hardman could be the WR4, and Randall Cobb could be the WR5. That sounds far more ideal than having Lazard as the WR2, Hardman as the WR3, and Cobb as the WR4 (perhaps Cobb is actually the WR3 right now). Everyone’s efficiency would be maximized thanks to Wilson and Evans taking pressure off their shoulders.
Lazard would particularly benefit from Evans. With Evans taking a starting spot on the outside, Lazard could move primarily into a big slot role. That would be a win for Lazard, who is typically more efficient in the slot than on the outside. However, as things currently stand, Lazard is likely poised for a high rate of outside reps since the next two WRs on the depth chart, Hardman and Cobb, are both restricted to the slot. Adding Evans would erase this dilemma and put Lazard into his best role.
Last but not least, Evans’ size would boost the Jets’ run game. With Davis and Lazard, the Jets were poised to have two big-bodied receivers who could make key blocks for the Jets on outside run plays. Without Davis, Lazard is now the Jets’ only receiver who is known for his blocking. Evans would replace Davis’ blocking impact.
Adding Evans to this offense is incredibly tantalizing for New York. The question shouldn’t be why would the Jets do it, but could the Jets do it?
Can the Jets pull off an Evans trade?
The Jets are in a good spot financially. According to Over The Cap, they currently have the fourth-most cap space of any team at $20.38 million. They are also in a decent spot for 2024, ranking 21st with $24.39 million in current projected space. That number can be increased with cuts.
Evans’ base salary is $13 million this season. That’s the number New York would take on if they acquired him. With $20.38 million in available space, the Jets can fit him in for 2023.
If the Jets want to trade for Evans as a mere one-year rental, they can pull it off. The question is whether they’d want to do that.
As we mentioned earlier, the maximum pick Evans can yield as a compensatory free agent is a fifth-rounder. If the Bucs trade him this year, they will want a significantly better return than that.
A fair estimation for Evans’ trade value is probably a second or third-round pick. Would the Jets want to give that up for one year of Evans?
Keep in mind that the Jets cannot offer a second-round pick until 2025, as they need to keep their 2024 second-round pick available in case Rodgers does not meet the conditions (65% of Jets’ offensive snaps) to upgrade that pick to a first-rounder. So, if they deal a 2025 second-rounder for one year of Evans in 2023, that’s a pretty significant long-term price.
The Jets could also trade for Evans with the intention of giving him the long-term extension he wants. They have the flexibility to do it, although it might cost them the ability to sign another player in the future.
Extending Evans could make sense for the Jets. With the expectation that Rodgers will stick around through 2024 or 2025, they expect to have a championship window that lasts at least two or three years. Evans remains a star at 30 years old. The Jets should be able to feel confident that he will provide a good return on investment if they commit to him for another few seasons.
What do you think? Should the Jets make a run for Mike Evans?