The Buccaneers correctly structed the contracts of their star players to maximize the amount of time they would have with Tom Brady, but now it’s time to pay up.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback announced his retirement after 23 NFL seasons Wednesday, which leaves impending free agent Blaine Gabbert and Kyle Trask as Tampa Bay’s active signal-callers. Brady’s retirement gives the Bucs over $20 million in cap relief, but they still are in a bind and have multiple players entering free agency.
The Buccaneers won the NFC South with an 8-9 record last season, but with Frank Reich as head coach of the Carolina Panthers and a potentially up-and-coming Atlanta Falcons team, it’s no guarantee Tampa Bay makes it to the top of the division again.
Todd Bowles could be the head of a rebuild as his team seeks to find its next franchise quarterback. The Buccaneers have multiple players still in the prime of their careers, and it’s why the Patriots should make a few calls for a trade.
The player that should be at the top of New England’s wish list has to be Mike Evans. The nine-year wide receiver turns 30 next season, but he has shown he can produce with any quarterback. Evans has more than 1,000 receiving yards in every season of his NFL career and has been named to four Pro Bowls. Mac Jones has shown he is plenty capable of throwing a deep ball, and Evans has the skill set to match — he accounted for 33.63% of the Buccaneers’ air yards, which ranked 12th in the league, according to Next Gen Stats.
The problem could be the price tag. Tampa Bay likely would want a first-round pick in return, which is more expensive than the reported asking price for DeAndre Hopkins, who the Patriots also could acquire this offseason. But Evans has been more reliable than the Arizona Cardinals wideout, is a year younger and carries less of a cap hit — $23.6 million versus 30.7 million, according to Over the Cap. The former also is on an expiring deal with his final three years voided, and the latter has two years left on his contract.
Chris Godwin also has an expiring deal with his final two years voided due to a restructure of his contract that allowed him to earn more money up front and save the Buccaneers from taking a larger cap hit. This could be more riskier, however, due to the 26-year-old’s injury history. That also could be used in negotiations for a potential discount.
When healthy, Godwin can be a consistent contributor that can be a useful asset in the play-action and quick game for the Patriots. In what was considered a down year for the Buccaneers offense, the sixth-year receiver still caught 104 passes for 1,023 yards and three touchdowns.
Tampa Bay is unlikely to mess around with its offensive line since that will be key for their next QB. But it might blow up its defense by trading away Pro Bowl linebacker Devin White. The 24-year-old will be on an expiring deal next season, and the Patriots could improve on a positional strength that includes Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai, who had a breakout season in his second year in New England.
The question will be if White wants a large contract. The Baltimore Ravens recently reset the linebacker market by signing Roquan Smith to a five-year, $100 million contract. White has the ability to be the league’s top linebacker, but the Buccaneers defense struggled with inconsistency. New England has plenty of cap space, but it might second-guess signing White to an extensive long-term deal.