There was a time during the second half of last season when it seemed like I was writing about Mike Evans nearly every week in the Mailbag intro. In fact, at one point I forced myself to write about a dramatically different topic – Chris Godwin, lol – and still ended up throwing a good amount of love Evans' way.
But it's been a few months now and I've managed to come up with more variety in my Mailbag intro topics, so I don't feel bad about going back to the Mike Evans well as March turns into April. There was no real impetus for it except that I was looking over the star receiver's stats page and it struck me that maybe we haven't made enough about the fact that Evans has caught 27 touchdown passes over the past two seasons.
Evans continued to break franchise records last season, including Mike Alstott's all-time touchdown lead, and that understandably drew a lot of attention. In addition, his successful chase for 1,000 receiving yards, nearly upended by a late-season hamstring injury, was big news down the stretch as he extended his gaudy NFL record of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons at the beginning of a career to eight. Simply put, there were plenty of great numbers and notes to pin on Evans last year, and that's why we – or at least I – may not have paid enough attention to 27 touchdown catches over the past two seasons!
That is actually not the most by any player in that span, as former Green Bay star Davante Adams caught 29 touchdown passes across 2020 and 2021 combined. No other player had more than 24. Adams led the NFL with 18 scoring catches in 2020 and added 11 more last year. Getting to that high total with that pattern is no more or less impressive than Evans getting to 27 with 13 one year and 14 the next, but it does bring me to the main note I wanted to share in this intro.
First of all, catching at least 13 touchdown passes in two consecutive seasons is wildly impressive from a Buccaneers franchise standpoint, considering that nobody had ever done it even once before. Evans set a new team single-season standard two years in a row, and his 14 scores last year was also the franchise record for single-season touchdowns of any kind.
It's pretty impressive outside of the context of Evans' own franchise, too. His is only the 11th instance in NFL history in which a player has caught 13 or more touchdown passes in at least two consecutive seasons. (Green Bay's Jordy Nelson did it in 2014 and 2016, sandwiched around a season on injured reserve, but I'm choosing not to include that here.) It's only been done by nine different people, as Terrell Owens did it twice and the receiver G.O.A.T, Jerry Rice did it three times. Rice, Owens and Lance Alworth are the only players with streaks of three straight seasons with 13-plus touchdown catches (Rice did it twice), so there's another illustrious group of Hall of Famers for Evans to chase in 2022.
Prior to Evans' current streak, the last player with 13-plus touchdown passes in consecutive seasons was former Cowboy Dez Bryant, in 2013 and 2014. It's a bit of an arbitrary bar, of course, but it still helps to underscore how impressive Mike Evans has been in regards to finding the end zone over the past two seasons (and his whole career, really).
And now on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to firstname.lastname@example.org.
After signing Logan Ryan, what are the odds that the Bucs continue to add to the secondary either in free agency or the draft?
-kevinvidmarr (via Instagram)
Do you think the Bucs are finished with free agency or will they still look to add more players before the draft?
-official_lynchie (via Instagram)
I think the odds are pretty good, though I'd more confidently put my money on the draft rather than more work in free agency. At the least, I doubt there would be any big-name free agent additions, like Stephon Gilmore or Tyrann Mathieu, or even a Steven Nelson or Landon Collins. Spotrac.com has the Buccaneers with about $8 million in cap space and the team will still have to account for the draft pick salary slots and anymore of their own free agents they hope to bring back (Rob Gronkowski, Ndamukong Suh, Blaine Gabbert, etc.).
As an aside, the Buccaneers should be in pretty good shape when it comes to the compensatory pick process next offseason, presuming they do not dip back into the free agency pool very heavily. The Buccaneers have made three noteworthy additions so far – wide receiver Russell Gage, guard Shaq Mason and defensive back Logan Ryan – but only Gage would count in the comp pick system as an unrestricted free agent. Mason was acquired via trade and Ryan had been released by the Giants before coming to Tampa, so neither count in the formula.
Meanwhile, safety Jordan Whitehead, guard Alex Cappa, tight end O.J. Howard and running back Ronald Jones are all players who have been signed away from Tampa Bay as unrestricted free agent. That is an imbalance in favor of departed players that could give the Bucs up to three comp picks next year. And the fact that all four are likely to see extensive playing time with their new teams particularly Whitehead with the Jets and Cappa with the Bengals – those compensatory picks could end up being pretty good ones. Where the picks are placed in the draft is determined by a confidential formula involving salary, playing time and postseason honors.
Anyway, I digress. The Buccaneers will be adding to both the safety and cornerback positions over the next few months because they will want to get each one up to certain number of players before the start of training camp. Let's look at last year. The Buccaneers took eight safeties to training camp, including four who were returning from the previous season's roster or practice squad. They added two more street free agents along the way – Raven Greene and Chris Cooper – but no one who would have been on any prominent free agent lists. They also signed two undrafted rookies, Augie Contressa and Lawrence White, after the draft.
The Bucs took 10 cornerbacks into training camp last year. That included five players who were returning from the previous season's active roster or practice squad. They drafted another corner, Chris Wilcox, in the seventh round and along the way added three street free agents in Antonio Hamilton, Nate Brooks and Dee Delaney.
So there will be some low-level signings and probably a couple undrafted free agents joining the roster at some point. However, I think it's quite possible that the team will use a Day One or Day Two pick on a cornerback, a safety or possibly even both. The Buccaneers lost Whitehead in free agency but were able to keep cornerback Carlton Davis. Next year, cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting and safety Mike Edwards will all be in line to hit unrestricted free agency. The results could be similar, with the Bucs being able to keep some of that homegrown talent but possibly not all of it. As such, it does make some sense to start adding to the secondary with some new talent, in case there are several holes to fill heading into 2023.
And those wouldn't just be picks aimed at the future. At cornerback, in particular, I could see the Bucs using an early pick on one and believing he will make some kind of impact in his rookie year. As I have preached often and as we saw over and over and over again in 2021, a team simply cannot have too much quality cornerback depth. Nearly every player in that room missed some time due to injury last season and there was constant shuffling in the secondary lineup. The Bucs could somewhat insulate themselves against similar troubles by adding to the secondary early in this year's draft. And if they get lucky during the season and don't run into a bunch of injuries, well, a cornerback surplus is a very good problem to have.
I spent most of that answer responding to the first question above, about the secondary in general, but much of it also applies to the bigger picture of free agency and the draft. The Buccaneers will by necessity be adding some veteran players to the roster in the coming months, but I would expect most or all of them to be value signings for overall depth. The biggest roster developments to come will likely be re-signings of the Bucs' own free agents and players added in the draft.
Is there any indication on when the schedule be released this year?
-diegohenrique110918 (via Instagram)
There's nothing official yet but I think it's safe to assume it will once again be after the draft, probably in the first few couple weeks of May.
The full schedule release is one of the big news items of the offseason for the NFL, and for a long time it would land somewhere around the middle of April, notably before the draft, which is the biggest NFL offseason event. In 2020, however, the league switching things up and put the schedule release after the draft. Perhaps there were some logistical reasons for this, but it also makes a lot of sense in terms of keeping the NFL forefront in the news. The draft itself now draws so much coverage, for months and months, that it is enough to keep fans dialed in for April anyway.
After the draft, there aren't a whole lot of big dates or league events to emphasize before the start of training camp. Putting the schedule release after the draft gives the league another big newsworthy event in May.
In 2020, the schedule was released on May 7. Last year, it was announced on Wednesday, May 12. If the NFL chooses to follow last year's pattern – and nothing of that sort has been announced yet – then the release date could be Wednesday March 11. That's a guess on my part, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was somewhere on or about that date.
We'll likely know more about that a little later this month. I would expect the league to reveal a concrete date for the schedule release at some point not long before the draft.
I know the Buccaneers are in all-in win-now mode as long as Tom Brady is still in the picture, and that's great as far as I'm concerned. Shaq, Carlton and Godwin notwithstanding, there have been a lot of one-year contracts handed out in recent years, or short ones with fake years on the end. It's been some pretty impressive cap wizardry to keep the team together for the most part. Again, these are all good things in my opinion….do whatever it takes to try to win it all while the chance is there, right? Still, it's also kind of interesting to think about what the team will look like when Brady's time here is finally done. Whether or not the bucs go through some lean years after this nice run or find another way to remain contenders they will certainly not look the same. So tell me what you think the core of this team is going to look like two to three years from now.
Thanks if you have the time to answer – Tim Devane (via email)
Three years from now would be pretty tough for any reliable predictions. If you're talking about the 2025 roster, the Buccaneers currently have one player under contract for that year, defensive lineman Vita Vea. You could call it one-and-a-half, I guess, because the team does hold a fifth-year option for 2025 on second-year outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka.
So let's look at 2024. Let's be really, really greedy and say Brady plays for the Bucs for two more seasons. That's certainly not anywhere close to a guarantee, particularly since he's only under contract for this upcoming season. But it allows us to set the scene for 2024.
Clearly, you can start with Vea, who signed a contract extension in early January that runs through the 2025 season. Vea is coming off his first Pro Bowl and it's clear from that extension that the team considers him a critical part of what they do on defense. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Shaq Barrett will be in the last year's of their current deals in 2024 (again, though, the team would have an option for 2025 on Tryon-Shoyinka). That's a pretty good start for a defensive front, and maybe the Bucs will have re-signed Anthony Nelson by that point, as well.
Carlton Davis is under contract for 2024, as well, but that's about it on defense. Young linebackers K.J. Britt and Grant Stuard also have deals through 2024 but it's not clear yet whether either will emerge as a starter down the road. There will have been some tough decisions on defense the previous two years, namely with cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting in 2023 and linebacker Devin White and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. in 2024. Let's say the Bucs get another deal in place for White and Winfield and one of the two corners. Lavonte David's current deal is coming into its last season; I would love it if Lavonte is still around in 2024 but we have to find out first if wants to keep playing for that long.
On offense, the Buccaneers have Chris Godwin and Russel Gage under contract through 2024 and Mike Evans through 2023. Evans sure feels like one of those great players who could spend his entire career on one team (or I'm projecting my hopes here), so let's say there's one more deal in the works for him in Tampa. That's a great starting point for the pass-catching crew, as well. Leonard Fournette's new contract runs through 2024, as well, as does the one center Ryan Jensen recently signed. The Buccaneers have a fifth-year option on right tackle Tristan Wirfs for 2024 that they will surely exercise or sign him to an extension before it is necessary. Donovan Smith and Shaq Mason are both up after the 2023 season but I could foresee Smith and the team wanting to stick together. There's the making for a pretty good front line there.
Quarterback will be the biggest question mark as soon as Brady moves on. The Bucs may have their future starter on the roster in Kyle Trask but that's pretty hard to know for sure right now. Head Coach Bruce Arians recently said that the Buccaneers were preparing to turn over every stone in the search for a new starter before Brady happily ended his brief retirement. That suggested a team that felt like it was still a prime contender if it could find a good answer at the game's best position. They may very well feel the same way in 2024 if they hit on some key contributors in the next few drafts.
Overall, I would say there's reason to be optimistic that the Bucs will be able to maintain a talented core in the 2024 season. How talented may depend on those upcoming drafts.