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Would NY Jets regret going all-out for Bucs WR Mike Evans?

Mike Evans
Mike Evans

The New York Jets might need to make a full-court press to pull Mike Evans out of Tampa Bay

As the NFL’s reigning receiving touchdowns leader and the owner of 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Mike Evans is the undisputed headliner of the 2024 free-agent wide receiver pool – which the New York Jets are sure to dip their toes into.

If the Jets are going to nab Evans, it sure feels like they’d have to present him with an offer that blows him away. Evans has spent his entire career in Tampa, where he is enjoying sunny weather, no state income tax, four consecutive playoff appearances, and the luxury of being viewed as an all-time legend in the city.

Why leave that situation to join a Jets team that endured chilly and/or rainy weather in nearly all of its 2023 home games, plays in a state that has the third-highest marginal state tax rate among states with an NFL team, has not made the playoffs since 2010, and is forced to put up with a relentless media market that dwarfs the one he is used to in Tampa?

It’s hard to imagine why Evans – who already has a Super Bowl ring – would give up his situation in Tampa to join any other team, let alone the Jets. Per the Tampa Bay Times, Evans said after the Bucs’ recent playoff loss, “I’ve been on record saying how much I love this place and how much I want to be here. 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.”

Nonetheless, money talks, so if the Jets want Evans badly enough, they might have a shot if they are willing to break the bank for him.

Despite his ideal situation and his recent comments, there seems to be a chance Evans could walk. Before the 2023 season, Evans and his agent issued a quasi-ultimatum to the Bucs, demanding they agree to a contract extension before the season opener or they would cut off contract negotiations entirely. This led many to believe Evans would be traded mid-season, but Evans ended up playing out the season.

After enjoying a great year both individually and in terms of team success, Evans’ odds of returning feel much stronger now than they did in September. Still, the contract drama that occurred last offseason suggests Evans might not be entirely committed to the Bucs. There could be a window for the Jets and other interested teams to sneak in.

Though, as we mentioned earlier, if the Jets are going to yank him out of the comfy confines in Tampa, they will probably need to make an extremely aggressive offer. And that’s what we’re here to talk about today. We all know Evans is a fantastic player, but is he worth an all-out splurge from the Jets?

Let’s dive into Evans’ complete free agent profile.

Jets free agent profiles:

Basic info

  • Age: 30.4
  • Height: 6-foot-5
  • Weight: 231 pounds
  • College: Texas A&M
  • Experience: 10 years (Drafted Round 1, Pick 7 by Tampa Bay in 2014)
  • Teams: Buccaneers (2014-present)
  • Previous contract: 5 years, $82.5M, $55M guaranteed (Extension signed with Buccaneers in March 2018)

Measurables

  • Data from 2014 Combine (via Mockdraftable)
  • Percentiles among all-time wide receiver prospects

Mike-Evans-Bucs-NY-Jets-Free-Agent-40-Time-2024

  • Height: 6’4¾” (95th percentile)
  • Weight: 231 pounds (97th)
  • Arm length: 35.125in (99th)
  • Hand size: 9.625in (68th)
  • 40-yard dash: 4.53s (44th)
  • Vertical jump: 37in (70th)
  • 3-cone drill: 7.08s (27th)
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.26s (43rd)
  • Bench press: 12 reps (27th)

Evans earned a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 7.00/10.

Role

Evans started all 17 games for Tampa Bay and played 78% of the Bucs’ offensive snaps. It was the lowest snap percentage of his career (solely looking at games in which he appeared) after being at or above 80% (but no higher than 87%) in each of his first nine seasons. Evans was slightly out-snapped by Chris Godwin, who played 81% of the Bucs’ offensive snaps.

In terms of targets, Evans and Godwin competed closely for the No. 1 spot. Evans ended up in the lead with 136 targets (8.0 per game) while Godwin followed closely with 130 targets (7.6 per game). Evans’ career average is 8.6 targets per game, so he was right in line with where he’s usually at.

Evans lines up in the slot more than you’d think. In 2023, Tampa Bay had him outside on 70.9% of his pass-game snaps and in the slot on 29.1%. In the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Evans played north of 35% of his snaps in the slot.

Just as he has been for his entire career, Evans was utilized as one of the league’s most aggressive downfield threats. His average depth-of-target was 15.0 yards, ranking fourth-highest out of 70 qualified wide receivers (min. 60 targets). This is identical to his career average.

Each of the three players who surpassed Evans on that leaderboard had fewer than 85 targets. Among high-end receivers, nobody is used downfield as aggressively as Evans. His ADOT was the highest among wide receivers with at least 100 targets. Here are the top 10 players on that list:

  • Mike Evans, 15.0
  • DeAndre Hopkins, 14.8
  • Brandon Aiyuk, 14.3
  • D.K. Metcalf, 14.1
  • Amari Cooper, 14.1
  • Calvin Ridley, 13.9
  • Chris Olave, 13.9
  • George Pickens, 13.7
  • Jordan Addison, 12.5
  • DeVonta Smith, 12.5

Evans ranked third among wide receivers with 34 deep targets (20+ yards downfield). He was 11th with 42 intermediate targets (10-19 yards) and 19th with 49 short targets (0-9 yards). Evans only saw two targets behind the line of scrimmage.

Per NFL Next Gen Stats, here is a look at the distribution of Evans’ route tree in 2023 based on the percentage of his routes run (all routes, not just targeted routes) that were classified as each route type.

Mike-Evans-NY-Jets-Stats-Free-Agent

Evans particularly feasted on out routes, corner routes, and slant routes. He ranked third in receptions on outs (21), second on corners (7), and fifth on slants (16).

2023 performance

Just the same old dominant Mike Evans

In the majority of aspects, the Mike Evans we saw in 2023 was basically the same Mike Evans we’ve seen over the past decade. Compare some of his 2023 numbers to his career averages:

  • 2023: 58.1% catch rate, 15.9 yards per reception, 9.2 yards per target, 4.6 receptions per game, 73.8 yards per game, 0.76 touchdowns per game
  • Career: 57.7% catch rate, 15.3 yards per reception, 8.8 yards per target, 4.9 receptions per game, 75.8 yards per game, 0.61 touchdowns per game

Explosive playmaking on high volume with lots of touchdowns. That’s what Mike Evans has been doing on a yearly basis since the extra point was still a 20-yard kick and Rex Ryan was still the Jets’ head coach.

Evans led the NFL with 13 receiving touchdowns while catching 79 passes for 1,255 yards. He backed up his gaudy box-score numbers with pristine efficiency, too. Evans ranked 12th among all players with 44.8 total EPA (Expected Points Added) on his receptions while placing 10th among 70 qualified wide receivers with a targeted passer rating of 119.4.

Contested-catch monster

Evans still makes the most of his enormous frame. He tied for second among wide receivers with 16 contested catches in 2023. With those coming on 30 contested targets, Evans had a contested catch rate of 53.3%, which placed 12th among the 75 wide receivers with at least 10 contested targets.

Evans’ career contested catch rate is 56.3%, and he has not gone below 50% since 2017. In the 2020s, Evans owns a stunning contested catch rate of 63.3%.

Deep prowess

Evans was an outstanding deep threat once again, tying for fourth among wide receivers with 14 deep receptions. These receptions were often highly productive, as Evans ranked third in receiving yards on deep receptions (484) and second in deep touchdowns (7).

One of his most efficient seasons on a per-route basis

The Bucs were an extremely pass-heavy team for much of Evans’ career, whether it was the years with Jameis Winston when Tampa Bay was always trailing or the years with Tom Brady when the team basically abandoned the run game. This meant Evans was getting an extremely high volume of opportunities to catch passes, somewhat inflating his numbers compared to what they’d look like in an average offense.

The 2023 iteration of Tampa Bay’s offense was the most balanced version that Evans has seen in quite some time. Evans ran 31.8 routes per game, which was well below his career average of 36.9 and was his lowest mark since 2015. From 2021-22, Evans averaged 40.5 routes per game.

This drop-off in opportunity volume makes Evans’ 2023 production all the more impressive. He essentially matched his career per-game averages in terms of yards and receptions (while beating his average in touchdowns) despite getting fewer chances to make plays.

Evans finished 2023 with 2.32 yards per route run, which ranked 12th-best among 70 qualified wide receivers. It was his best mark since 2018 and the third-best mark out of his 10 seasons.

Good route running

Recent free-agent history has shown a trend of contested-catch receivers flopping with their new teams. Players like Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson, and Allen Lazard got paid coming off of seasons in which their success revolved around contested catches rather than creating separation, and they wound up being unable to continue thriving. This leads us to believe that creating separation is a more sustainable method for finding success than winning 50-50 balls.

Being a 6-foot-5 contested-catch maestro, Evans could be viewed as a player who might fall into this trap. However, this concern is negated by his stellar reputation as a route runner.

This chart via Pro Football Focus displays Evans as the second-best wide receiver of the 2023 season in terms of PFF’s separation grade.

Mike-Evans-Separation-Route-Running-PFF-Stats-2023
via Twitter/@throwthedamball

Evans is not just a big dude who boxes people out. He is also a refined technician who knows how to create separation.

Still prone to an occasional drop, but his hands have improved

Earlier in his career, Evans had a case of the Brandon Marshall-itis where he would occasionally drop the easiest throw imaginable right after making the most jaw-dropping catch you’ve ever seen. While Evans still isn’t exactly Larry Fitzgerald, he has decreased his proneness to those frustrating drops.

Over his first seven seasons, Evans’ drop rate was 8.9%. For perspective, that would have ranked 63rd out of 70 qualified wide receivers in 2023.

However, over the past three seasons, Evans’ drop rate was 5.7%. That’s essentially par for the course – it would have ranked 36th of 70. Evans himself had a 6% drop rate in 2023, which placed 40th. He had five drops compared to 79 receptions.

These still pop up, although less often than they used to.

Comparing 2023 performance to previous track record

As we’ve mentioned a few times, Evans’ season was right in line with his career track record in many aspects. In some areas, he was even better, specifically his yards-per-route-run and his drop rate.

Evans is putting together one of the most consistently dominant careers we have ever seen from a wide receiver. The year-to-year reliability he has displayed is remarkable.

These are great signs when evaluating a free agent who will turn 31 later this year. Evans has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down just yet. He seems poised to be successful throughout the duration of another long-term contract. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if he continues playing like a top-flight WR1 until he is 33 or 34 years old, following a Larry Fitzgerald-type trajectory.

Evans is going to fall off at some point. Every player does, and you never know when that fall-off is going to start.

However, even if Evans’ fall-off begins as soon as this year, he remains so high on the wide receiver totem pole that he will probably still be a great player if he slips a bit. Barring a complete nosedive that could probably only occur due to injury, Evans is set up to be, at the very least, a high-end WR2 for a few more seasons.

Scheme fit

Similar to what we discussed with Calvin Ridley, I think Evans would fit well in the Jets’ offense because of how he complements Garrett Wilson.

Evans is a bona fide vertical threat who can force defenses to back off and yield space underneath, which is where Wilson is at his best. With Evans demanding help over the top, Wilson would draw one-on-ones that he could shred on a play-to-play basis with quick throws that lead to favorable YAC opportunities.

In addition, Evans gives the Jets a proven red-zone threat, which is something they have not had since Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker in 2015.

Evans’ size also makes him a good fit in the Jets’ scheme as a blocker in the run game. The Jets loved to align Allen Lazard (6-foot-5, 227 pounds) in a tight split and have him crack the defensive end inside to set up an outside run. Evans is capable of taking on those blocking assignments where a big-bodied receiver is ideal.

It could be somewhat concerning that Evans isn’t much of a YAC guy, as Aaron Rodgers tends to favor routes that facilitate YAC for his receivers, but it’s not as if every receiver in the offense needs to be Deebo Samuel. While Evans might not make a lot of YAC-type plays on his own, his ability to clear defenses out helps to open up space underneath, making it easier for his teammates to get YAC. This past season proved that Evans can be a key cog in a YAC-heavy offense.

Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield tied for 12th out of 32 qualified quarterbacks in YAC per completion (5.3) while placing eighth in total passing yards gained off YAC (1,941). While Evans was only responsible for 333 of those 1,941 yards (17%), there is no question that his vertical gravity contributed to creating many of those yards.

Consider this: the Bucs’ leader in YAC was running back Rachaad White, who ranked second among all running backs (trailing only Breece Hall) with 625 YAC. A big reason why White was so successful in the YAC game was the ample space he received.

White had an average of 5.7 yards of separation from the nearest defender at the time of his receptions, which was the second-highest mark among running backs with at least 50 targets. Undoubtedly, Evans’ presence was a big reason why there was nobody within six yards of White on his typical reception.

Interestingly, Breece Hall only had 4.1 average yards of separation from the nearest defender at the time of his receptions, ranking second-lowest among the 21 running backs who had at least 50 targets. Yet, Hall still managed to lead running backs in both YAC and total receiving yards. Now imagine if Evans came in to back defenses off and give Hall the type of space that White had.

Durability

Evans has been very reliable in his career, playing 154 out of 163 possible games (94.5%). That puts him on pace for 16 out of every 17 games.

Evans played every game in 2023 and was never listed on the injury report. In 2022, he missed two games; one with a calf injury and another due to illness.

Projected cost

Spotrac foresees Evans netting an enormous payday. They are projecting him to receive a four-year, $95.3 million deal, which is about $23.8 million per year.

In terms of average annual value, this would currently rank eighth-highest among wide receivers, right between Deebo Samuel ($24M) and Terry McLaurin ($23.2M). In terms of total value, this would rank sixth, between Stefon Diggs ($96M) and Evans’ current deal ($82.5M).

For a 31-year-old receiver, this is a historic sum of money. None of the five receivers who currently have $90M+ contracts (Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, Amari Cooper, A.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs) were in their age-31 season at the time of signing. Davante Adams was the closest, turning 30 in December of his contract’s first season. Evans will be 31 this August.

Even if you go further down the list, there are no receivers at the top of the pay scale who were 31 years old at the start of their contract. To find the highest-ranked receiver who was 31 or older when they signed, you have to go down to DeAndre Hopkins, who signed a two-year, $26 million contract this past offseason as he was heading into his age-31 campaign. There’s also Odell Beckham Jr., who landed a one-year, $15 million deal at 31.

Obviously, though, Evans is no Hopkins or Beckham. This isn’t your typical 31-year-old. Evans’ consistency can only be rivaled by a few players in the history of the game. Until proven otherwise, age is just a number for him.

PFF offered a similar projection to Spotrac, albeit for one less season: $69 million over three years ($23M per year), with $52.5 million guaranteed.

It sure feels like Evans is going to shoot for unprecedented territory among 30-plus receivers. And why shouldn’t he with the career he’s put together?

Flag Check

I recently wrote a pair of articles that analyzed what the Jets can learn from their hits and misses in free agency. The idea was to determine which green flags and red flags at the time of the signings turned out to be the best predictors of what would happen.

Let’s take a look at Evans’ profile and see which aspects of it are reminiscent of the Jets’ hits (like D.J. Reed and Tyler Conklin) and which aspects are concerningly similar to the Jets’ whiffs (like Laken Tomlinson and C.J. Uzomah).

Green flags

The green flags are aplenty.

  • Durable
  • 10 years of consistency
  • Maintained dominance through multiple head coaches, offensive coordinators, and quarterbacks
  • 2023 performance was equal to or better than career track record in most metrics
  • Good route running quells concerns about being a tools-reliant player who ages poorly
  • Seems to be a good scheme fit who would complement Jets’ best weapons

Players like Evans simply do not hit the open market very often.

Red flags

The only red flag with Evans is his age. It hasn’t laid the slightest dent in his game just yet, but it will at some point, and you don’t know when that will be. There’s never a warning – it just happens. The question is when that will happen and how big the dent will be.

Still, as we discussed earlier, Evans is so stellar that he will likely remain a great player if he loses a step or two. Unless he has a major injury, it’s hard to see Evans suddenly becoming mediocre.

And considering how well he played in 2023 despite going from Tom Brady to Baker Mayfield, there seems to be a high chance he will remain in peak form for at least one more season. While 31 is old for most NFL players, it’s not uncommon for wide receivers at Evans’ talent level to remain in their primes well into their thirties.

The verdict

My opinion is that the Jets should go all-out for Evans if he decides to entertain offers from other teams. Whatever number it takes to get Evans to listen, I’d lay the offer out there and put the ball in his court.

Signing a 31-year-old receiver to a mega-deal would undoubtedly be risky. There is no denying that. But Evans’ resume is so spotless that the gamble does not feel as risky as it might appear on the surface.

And now is the time for Joe Douglas to take risks anyway. The Jets are trying to win a Super Bowl in 2024 or 2025. That is the goal. Period. Whatever they can do to maximize their ceiling in those two seasons, they need to do it – future be damned.

This is the path they chose when they acquired Aaron Rodgers, and they need to go all-in on that mentality. The future is already compromised. To make it worthwhile, they must ensure that no sliver of potential is wasted in 2024 and 2025.

Evans is the highest-upside option among the wide receivers who could be available this offseason. While it can be argued that Davante Adams slightly beats out Evans as a player, Adams would require trade compensation while Evans would not. Personally, I would prefer to have Evans plus whatever player(s) and draft pick(s) it would take to get Adams instead of Adams by himself.

If the Jets are afraid of the financial investment it might take to sign Evans, they could go the cheaper route with Calvin Ridley, but there’s a large gap between what Evans brings you compared to Ridley. They’re not close as players. While I like Ridley as a fallback if Evans is not on the table, I think Evans is far enough ahead of Ridley as a player to be worth the greater cost.

Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman do not seem likely to become available, and if they do, they would probably require a trade after being franchise-tagged. Again, at this point, I’d take Evans without having to part with draft compensation.

The idea of an offense with Aaron Rodgers, Garrett Wilson, Mike Evans, and Breece Hall is wildly tantalizing. If you have a chance to make that happen, you take it.

Spotrac’s four-year projection gives me some pause, but if Evans can be had on the three-year, $69 million deal ($52.5M guaranteed) that PFF offered up? I’m all in.

This is just my take on it, though. After evaluating the positives and negatives of Evans’ player profile, what do you think? Should the Jets roll out the red carpet for Evans or should they steer clear?

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Jets71
Jets71
4 months ago

You did mention some drops and I noticed some important drops late in the season with him, however I think the good outweighs the bad with him. You hit the nail on the head, when the Jets chose Aaron Rogers (I think the right decision) it means going in on a guy like Evans.

The Jets have a good base of young talent, ideally they will continue to improve to the point they are “the guy” who can carry the rest of the team. Someone like Garrett isn’t there yet but hopefully in a year or two, when someone like Evans is out the door it will be Garrett helping some other younger guy.

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