Buccaneers Rumors

Buccaneers WR Mike Evans Seeking $25MM Per Season?

7:43pm: Dianna Russini of The Athletic reports that Evans now plans to hit free agency for the first time in his career. The ten-year veteran may still end up a life-long Buccaneer, but he fully intends to field offers from around the NFL. Despite ongoing discussions with Tampa Bay, Evans wants to keep his options open before deciding if he wants to return.

12:01pm: With Baker Mayfield in line for a multi-year contract and Antoine Winfield Jr. likely to receive the franchise tag, Mike Evans faces the distinct possibility of testing free agency later this month. The Buccaneers intend to keep all three members of that trio in the fold, but the latter could come with a hefty price tag.

Evans is aiming for a deal with an annual average value in the $25MM range, NFL Network’s Jeffri Chadhia reports. Securing a figure of that magnitude on a third contract would come as a surprise, as only four wideouts average $25MM or more on their current deals. Given his age (31 at the start of the 2024 season), Evans will likely be hard-pressed to command a new pact that close to the top of the market.

Still, his play remained at a Pro Bowl level in 2023, the first with Mayfield at quarterback. Evans posted 1,255 yards – his highest total since 2018 – and tied for the league lead with 13 touchdowns. Having topped the 1,000-yard mark in each of his 10 seasons, the second-team All-Pro will provide a high floor to the Buccaneers or a new team next season. A short-term pact in particular could prove to be a sound investment for Tampa Bay or an outside suitor.

At a minimum, Evans’ next deal can be expected to comfortably outpace the $16.5MM AAV of his previous one. That five-year accord provided major value to the Buccaneers, but the top of the market has surged in recent years. That trend could continue in 2024 with Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and Amon-Ra St. Brown among the young wideouts eligible for mega-deals. Each member of that trio would be expected to command a more lucrative pact than Evans, but the latter could still generate a notable market for himself.

The Texas A&M alum went up until the start of last season during contract talks with the Buccaneers, but no agreement was reached. Reports from last month stated the sides are not close after the latest round of negotiations, meaning Evans could at least test the market once the new league year begins. Further clarity on Mayfield and Winfield (and, as such, Tampa Bay’s cap situation) will likely be in place by that point. It will be interesting to see where Evans’ asking price checks in during talks with the Buccaneers or other interested parties over the coming days and weeks.

Falcons Interested In Baker Mayfield?

Linked closely to quarterbacks this offseason, the Falcons may be moving close to landing their next starter. Justin Fields-to-Atlanta buzz is heating up, but the NFC South team also looks to be interested in Baker Mayfield — potentially as a contingency plan.

The Buccaneers have begun talks with Mayfield, who would stand to lose some leverage if the Falcons complete a Fields trade soon. But Atlanta is believed to be in the mix for Mayfield, according to Sportskeeda’s Tony Pauline. It would take the Bucs failing to complete a Mayfield deal to bring the Falcons into this equation, however. The Bucs’ exclusive negotiating rights expire at 11am CT on March 11, when the legal tampering period begins.

Last year, the Giants and Seahawks needed to pin down the markets for Daniel Jones and Geno Smith, respectively. Both teams reached deals with their QBs to keep them off the market. The Bucs are in the same situation, and it will require a big raise for them to keep Tom Brady‘s successor in town. Mayfield is expected to draw at least $34MM per year on his next deal, per Pauline, who throws out a $40MM-AAV prospect as a potential ceiling number.

The Giants giving Jones $40MM per annum could conceivably be a factor here, and that contract included $81MM fully guaranteed. Mayfield’s guarantee figure will be one of this offseason’s most interesting numbers, given where his value stood after poor 2021 and ’22 seasons. A team shelling out a Jones-level guarantee would certainly be taking a risk.

The Falcons do have some staffers familiar with Mayfield. New OC Zac Robinson was Mayfield’s position coach during his brief stay with the Rams, with Raheem Morris obviously observing the former waiver claim in that span as well.

Mayfield going from where he was entering last year’s free agency to his present value remains a fascinating process, one that underscores the supply-and-demand issue at quarterback. Other suitors are in on Mayfield, per Pauline, though it is not certain how aggressive the non-Bucs contingent plans to be. It would stand to reason the Raiders, Broncos and perhaps the Vikings — depending on their Kirk Cousins conclusion — are monitoring Mayfield. The Steelers have been linked to Fields, though they have also been connected to a plan of bringing in a veteran to compete with Kenny Pickett. Given where Mayfield’s price might be, he is overqualified for that assignment despite needing to win the Tampa Bay job last summer.

The Bucs likely have Mayfield atop their priority queue, but they also are believed to be readying to use their franchise tag on Antoine Winfield Jr. It would be a bit of a leap for the Bucs to tag Mayfield, as that would cost more than $38MM. Even if Mayfield’s AAV could wind up in this ballpark — a staggering raise from the $4MM base salary he signed for in 2023 — that would be a crippling cap hold for the Bucs to carry into free agency. That said, the team just qualified for the divisional round with Brady’s $35.1MM dead-money sum on the books.

Regarding Fields and the Falcons, a DraftKings Sportsbook update places this as the runaway lead fit by slotting Atlanta as a minus-250 favorite for the Chicago QB. The Bears hope to finalize a Fields decision before free agency, with GM Ryan Poles indicating he wants to do right by the three-year starter. Chicago is on track to draft Caleb Williams with its Carolina-obtained No. 1 pick, and while that is not yet final, Fields is widely expected to be wearing a different uniform in 2024.

If the Falcons do not end up with the Georgia native — whom they passed on in 2021 — a Mayfield push could become intense for a team that has wanted to upgrade on Desmond Ridder since the season ended.

Bucs Unlikely To Retain LB Devin White

With free agency approaching, the Buccaneers have key decisions to make with several pending free agents. Linebacker Devin White is set to see his contract expire, but a new Tampa Bay agreement should not be expected.

The former fifth overall pick sought out a massive extension last offseason, and he requested a trade when talks on that front did not yield an agreement. Little interest was shown around the league, and White ultimately played out the 2023 campaign. He found himself splitting time with K.J. Britt down the stretch, however, and he did not start either of the Bucs’ postseason contests. A departure in free agency would come as no surprise at this point.

“No, we’re still trying to make some decisions on some of those other players,” general manager Jason Licht said at the Combine. “But, you know, Devin did some really good things for us throughout his career, but we’re still sorting out some things” (h/t Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times).

Indeed, the cases of quarterback Baker Mayfieldreceiver Mike Evans and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. are more pressing for Licht and Co. at the moment. The latter is likely to receive the franchise tag, while talks with Mayfield are underway. Evans is the likeliest member of the trio to reach the open market, but a new Tampa deal is still very much on the team’s radar. The same is also true of linebacker Lavonte David, who plans to either continue his storied Tampa Bay career or hang up his cleats.

Especially if David were to agree to another one-year deal, the Bucs could move forward with he, Britt and 2023 fifth-rounder SirVocea Dennis at the linebacker spot. Britt racked up 15 tackles in the playoffs while holding a first-team role, something which initially took place after White was cleared to return to the lineup in December but did not immediately suit up. A lingering foot injury was at the heart of the issue, but reports indicated the former Pro Bowler declined to play upon learning he would be relegated to backup duties. Head coach Todd Bowles pushed back on that notion, and a rotation ensued the rest of the way.

White, 26, would still be one of the more intriguing linebackers on the market given his age and production. He has totaled 566 tackles, 23 sacks and six forced fumbles in five years with Tampa Bay, although his play has not reflected well with respect to PFF grades. Looking to earn back a full-time starting gig, White is on track to find himself with a new team in 2024, and the interest he commands as a free agent will be worth monitoring.

Buccaneers To Release OLB Shaquil Barrett

In need of retaining several key members of their 2023 team, the Buccaneers have a few likely salary cap casualties. One of those has long been believed to be outside linebacker Shaquil Barrettand he is indeed set to see his time in Tampa Bay come to an end.

The Buccaneers will release Barrett, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports. The two-time Super Bowl winner was owed an option bonus of $15.04MM on the fifth day of the new league year. Rather than absorbing that cap charge, Tampa Bay will cut bait after Barrett’s five-year run with the team.

This move will come in the form of a post-June 1 release, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times confirms. Taking that route will allow the team to spread out Barrett’s $26.67MM dead cap figure across two seasons. The Bucs will be hit with $9.27MM in dead money in 2024 and $17.4MM next year. They will save $4.9MM in cap space for this season, but only after June 1.

Barrett recently admitted he was likely to be released this offseason given his burdensome cap hit. The 31-year-old was owed $17MM in 2024 and he was due to carry a cap hit of $14.19MM, along with a charge of $29.43MM in a void year in 2025. One of many Bucs veterans to have their contracts restructured in recent years, Barrett’s release will be part of the process of Tampa Bay clearing out financial wiggle room in the post-Tom Brady era. The modest cap savings will not be available during the opening wave of free agency, but it will still help as the team aims to retain important members of the squad which went to the divisional round of the postseason.

Baker Mayfield, Mike Evans and Antoine Winfield Jr. are each pending free agents (although the latter is likely to receive the franchise tag). A new contract for Mayfield in particular will be an expensive priority, given his success in his debut Tampa season. Barrett, by contrast, delivered underwhelming totals in 2023 despite managing to play in 18 combined regular season and playoff games coming off an Achilles tear the previous season. The two-time Pro Bowler posted 4.5 sacks in 2023, after recording three in eight contests the year prior.

Those totals mark a stark contrast to Barrett’s 19.5 sacks in 2019. That figure led the league and set a single-season franchise record. The Colorado State product also delivered four sacks in the 2020 postseason to help Tampa Bay win the Super Bowl that year; after a 10-sack campaign the following season, though, things have not gone according to plan. Barrett will now turn his attention to free agency in the hopes of regaining his previous form in a new environment.

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, will move forward with an inexpensive edge contingent including the likes of Anthony NelsonJoe Tryon-Shoyinka and YaYa Diaby. The latter finished tied for fifth in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting after he delivered 7.5 sacks in 2023. Another investment along the edge via the draft could be in play for Tampa Bay, or the team could dip into the secondary free agent market if sufficient funds for a Barrett replacement exist. Entering today, the Buccaneers had $43.68MM in cap space with a slew of major financial decisions still to make.

Buccaneers, QB Baker Mayfield Begin “Preliminary Talks”

Previous reports indicated that the Buccaneers would like to re-sign Baker Mayfield before the start of free agency, and the organization is apparently making progress on that goal. According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, the Buccaneers and Mayfield have had “preliminary talks” about a new deal.

[RELATED: Buccaneers Want To Re-Sign Baker Mayfield Before Free Agency]

While nothing is imminent, it’s a positive sign that the two sides are already engaging in negotiations. Per Stroud, Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht is expected to meet with Mayfield’s agent, Tom Mills, next week, and both camps have expressed interest in completing a new contract.

Following a standout season that saw Mayfield pass for a career-high 4,044 yards and 28 touchdowns while guiding his squad to the postseason, the Buccaneers have already started preparing for the former top-overall pick to be under center in 2024. After offensive coordinator Dave Canales left to become the Panthers head coach, the Buccaneers brought on Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who previously worked with Mayfield when the two were in Los Angeles.

While the Buccaneers seem to be making it clear that they want Mayfield back, the feeling is apparently mutual. Per Stroud, Mayfield wants to stick in Tampa Bay because he believes it would give him the best opportunity to win. Mayfield’s 9-8 record in 2023 was only the second time in his career that he’s finished with a winning record, and the veteran is surely looking to carry that momentum into the 2024 campaign.

Of course, while both sides are interested in a new pact, it may be easier said than done. Mayfield will surely earn a significant raise on the $7MM he earned this past season (including incentives), and as Stroud notes, a deal worth $40MM-plus wouldn’t even necessarily put the QB into the upper echelon of his position.

Friday afternoon’s unveiling of the 2024 salary cap brought clarity to the QB franchise tag, which would come in at $38.3MM. That could be an option for the Buccaneers if they can’t agree to a long-term deal with Mayfield, although Stroud cautions that the organization isn’t “expected to use that designation.”

2024 NFL Cap Space, By Team

The NFL provided clarity to its teams on Friday by setting the salary cap ceiling ($255.4MM). Franchise tag figures have been locked in as well, and clubs can now proceed with their offseason planning knowing exactly where they stand with respect to financial flexibility. Courtesy of Over the Cap, here is the current landscape in terms of salary cap space:

  1. Washington Commanders: $79.61MM
  2. Tennessee Titans: $78.66MM
  3. Chicago Bears: $78.34MM
  4. New England Patriots: $77.96MM
  5. Indianapolis Colts: $72.34MM
  6. Houston Texans: $67.58MM
  7. Detroit Lions: $57.61MM
  8. Arizona Cardinals: $51.1MM
  9. Cincinnati Bengals: $50.67MM
  10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $43.68MM
  11. Los Angles Rams: $43.11MM
  12. Las Vegas Raiders: $42.94MM
  13. Minnesota Vikings: $35.81MM
  14. Carolina Panthers: $34.57MM
  15. Atlanta Falcons: $33MM
  16. New York Giants: $30.8MM
  17. Philadelphia Eagles: $27.35MM
  18. Jacksonville Jaguars: $24.68MM
  19. Kansas City Chiefs: $18.19MM
  20. Baltimore Ravens: $16.63MM
  21. Seattle Seahawks: $12.97MM
  22. New York Jets: $12.76MM
  23. Pittsburgh Steelers: $9MM
  24. Green Bay Packers: $2.3MM
  25. San Francisco 49ers: $5.07MM over the cap
  26. Cleveland Browns: $7.76MM over
  27. Dallas Cowboys: $9.86MM over
  28. Denver Broncos: $16.81MM over
  29. Los Angeles Chargers: $25.61MM over
  30. Miami Dolphins: $27.92MM over
  31. New Orleans Saints: $42.11MM over
  32. Buffalo Bills: $43.82MM over

All teams must be cap compliant by the start of the new league year, but it will of course be more than just those currently over the limit which will make cost-shedding moves in the near future. Cuts, restructures and extensions are available as tools to carve out space in advance of free agency. Several have already taken place around the league.

That includes the Dolphins’ release of defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and the planned cut of Xavien Howard. The latter cannot be designated a post-June 1 release until free agency begins but once it happens, Miami will move much closer to cap compliance. The Saints have moved considerable commitments into the future via restructures (as usual), but more transactions on that front will be required even with the cap seeing an historic single-season jump.

The roughly $30MM spike from 2023 will provide unforeseen spending power for teams already set to lead the pack in cap space while also making the task of those at the bottom of the list easier. Spending more on backloaded contracts this offseason at the expense of future space obviously carries risk, however. Still, the news of a higher-than-expected ceiling will add further intrigue to each team’s financial planning.

With Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson each set to carry record-breaking cap hits for 2024, the Cowboys and Browns will be among the teams most in need of working out a deal to lower those figures. In Dallas’ case in particular, an extension would provide immediate breathing room in addition to clarity on his future beyond the coming season. For Cleveland, Watson’s fully-guaranteed deal has already been restructured once and will need to be again to avoid consecutive years of a $64MM cap charge over its remaining term.

If the Commanders and Patriots add a quarterback with the second and third picks in this year’s draft, each team currently in the top six in space will enjoy the benefits of having a signal-caller on their rookie contracts. That would allow for an aggressive approach to free agency, although the Chiefs’ success after Patrick Mahomes signed (and re-worked) his monster extension has proven it is possible to win Super Bowl titles with a substantial QB investment on the books.

Lavonte David Only Considering Re-Signing With Buccaneers Or Retiring

Last offseason, Lavonte David was interested in testing free agency before ultimately re-signing with the Buccaneers. This time around, it sounds like the veteran linebacker isn’t as eager to stretch out his free-agent process.

During an appearance on The Ronnie & TKras Show on WDAE, the impending free agent acknowledged that he’s only considering re-signing with the Buccaneers or calling it a career.

“I would want to stay a Buc for the rest of my career as long as I play,” David said (h/t Cory Woodroof of For the Win). “I do want to retire a Buc, but, y’know, it’s just got to be a mutual thing.”

After flirting with the idea of playing elsewhere last offseason, the 12-year veteran played out the 2023 campaign on a one-year, $4.5MM contract with the Buccaneers. Despite 2023 marking his age-33 season, David proceeded to have one of the most productive seasons of his career. He finished the year having compiled 134 tackles and 4.5 sacks, with Pro Football Focus rating him as the No. 28 overall linebacker.

Following his underwhelming free agency experience, David is now making it clear that it’s Tampa-or-bust heading into this offseason. The former second-round pick certainly deserves to finish his career with the Buccaneers, as it’s the only team he’s played for since entering the NFL in 2012. He ranks second in franchise history in total tackles (1,480, behind Derrick Brooks‘ 1,713), and he’s top-10 in the majority of the franchise’s other defensive categories (including first in forced fumbles).

The Buccaneers have good reason to get clarity on David’s situation as soon as possible. If the organization does not re-sign David before the start of the 2024 league year on March 13, they will be hit with a $2.67MM dead-money charge. Of course, the team’s financial hurdles aren’t nearly as troubling this year; after carrying more than $70MM in dead money this past year, the Bucs are projected to hold more than $37MM in cap space heading into the offseason.

Even with those previous monetary limitations, the Buccaneers have done an admirable job of retaining many of their top free agents. So, the front office probably won’t think twice about bringing David back for at least another season.

2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

A valuable tool for teams to keep top free agents off the market, the franchise tag has been in existence since 1993. This week brought the opening of the 2024 tag window. Clubs have until 3pm CT on March 5 to apply tags. As the Giants’ situation showed last year, most of the tag-related business comes near the close of this window. Teams will continue to work toward re-signing their respective tag candidates, thus preventing a lofty franchise tender from hitting their cap sheet.

The legal tampering period opens March 11, with the new league year (and official free agency) starting March 13. Once a player is tagged, he has until July 15 to sign an extension with his respective team. Absent an extension agreement by that date, the player must play the 2023 season on the tag (or go the Le’Veon Bell/Dan Williams/Sean Gilbert route, passing on guaranteed money and skipping the season).

High-profile free agents remain weeks away from hitting the market. As PFR’s tag recipients list shows, a handful of players are prevented from taking their services to free agency each year. This year looks to present a few more tag candidates compared to 2023. With a handful of teams determining if they will need to use the tag to prevent a free agency path, here are the players who figure to be tagged or at least generate conversations about being franchised ahead of the March 5 deadline:

Locks

Josh Allen, OLB (Jaguars)
Tag cost: $24MM

GM Trent Baalke did not leave much suspense when he addressed Allen’s future last month. The veteran exec said the 2019 first-round pick will be a Jaguar in 2024, indicating the team would use its franchise tag if necessary. The Jaguars do have Calvin Ridley as a free agent, but the team would owe the Falcons a 2024 second-round pick if it extended the wide receiver’s contract before the start of the league year. The second pick sent to Atlanta will only be a third-rounder if Jacksonville lets Ridley hit free agency. It makes more sense for Jacksonville to circle back to Ridley after allowing him to test the market. An Allen tag effectively ensures that will happen.

Timing his sack breakthrough well, Allen registered a Jags-record 17.5 during his contract year. The five-year Jaguar has combined for 55 QB hits over the past two seasons and ranks top 10 in pressures over the past three. The tag regularly keeps top edge rushers from hitting free agency, and the 26-year-old pass rusher — while obviously wanting to be paid what he’s worth — expressed a desire to stay in Jacksonville long term.

The Jags have regularly unholstered their tag during the 2020s, cuffing Yannick Ngakoue in 2020 and then keeping Cam Robinson off the 2021 and ’22 markets. The team kept Evan Engram out of free agency last year. Robinson signed an extension in 2022, and the Jags re-upped Engram last July. The Ngakoue situation could be notable, as the edge rusher became disgruntled with the Jags and was eventually traded to the Vikings that summer. No signs of that level of trouble are brewing with Allen yet.

Jaylon Johnson, CB (Bears)
Tag cost: $19.8MM

Johnson is likely to become the first franchise-tagged cornerback since the Rams kept Trumaine Johnson off the 2017 market. The Bears are the most recent team to tag a corner, using the transition tag to cuff Kyle Fuller in 2018. They will almost definitely follow suit with Johnson, who has been rumored to be tagged for several weeks. A Ryan Pace-era draftee, Johnson expressed his desire to stay with the Bears ahead of his contract year. With that platform campaign producing some twists and turns, that price has gone up significantly.

After unsuccessful in-season extension talks, the Bears gave Johnson an 11th-hour opportunity to gauge his trade value. The Bears did not alert teams Johnson, 24, was available until the night before the Oct. 31 deadline. Although the Bills and 49ers engaged in talks about a trade, the Bears held out for a first- or second-round pick. Nothing materialized, which will likely come up during the team’s talks with Johnson. The Bears then extended trade pickup Montez Sweat, leaving Johnson in limbo. But the former second-round pick stuck the landing on an impact season. He is firmly in the Bears’ plans, and the team holds more than $66MM in cap space — plenty to squeeze in a tag onto the payroll.

Pro Football Focus’ top-graded corner in 2023, Johnson displayed a new gear that has made him worthy of a tag. Finishing with four interceptions and allowing just a 50.9 passer rating as the closest defender, the Utah alum soared to second-team All-Pro status. The Bears, who last used the tag on Allen Robinson in 2021, made no secret of their interest in retaining Johnson and will have a few more months to negotiate with him as a result of the tag.

Likely tag recipients

Brian Burns, OLB (Panthers)
Projected tag cost: $24MM

The Panthers hiring a new GM and head coach classifies this as just short of a lock, but familiar faces remain. Carolina promoted assistant general manager Dan Morgan to GM and blocked DC Ejiro Evero from departing. Burns has been viewed as a likely tag recipient since last season, after negotiations broke down. The Panthers have not offered a negotiating masterclass here, as Burns has been extension-eligible since the 2022 offseason. Since-fired GM Scott Fitterer had viewed Burns as a re-up candidate for two offseasons, but multiple rounds of trade talks boosted the 2019 first-rounder’s leverage.

In what looks like a mistake, the Panthers passed on a Rams offer that included two first-rounders and a third for Burns at the 2022 trade deadline. Carolina then kept Burns out of 2023 trade talks with Chicago about the No. 1 pick, ultimately sending D.J. Moore to the Windy City for the Bryce Young draft slot. Carolina also kept Burns at the 2023 deadline, as teams looked into the top pass rusher on the NFL’s worst team. Burns also saw his position’s market change via Nick Bosa‘s record-setting extension ($34MM per year). The 49ers’ landmark accord came to pass after Burns had set a $30MM-AAV price point, complicating Morgan’s upcoming assignment.

Burns, 25, has registered at least 7.5 sacks in each of his five seasons. While he has only topped nine in a season once (2022), the two-time Pro Bowler is one of the league’s better edge rushers. Given the Panthers’ history with Burns, it would be borderline shocking to see the team allow the Florida State alum to leave in exchange for merely a third-round compensatory pick.

Burns has said he wants to stay with the Panthers; he is unlikely to have a choice this year. The Panthers last used the tag to keep right tackle Taylor Moton off the market in 2021; the sides agreed to an extension that offseason.

Tee Higgins, WR (Bengals)
Tag cost: $21.82MM

Seeing their hopes of capitalizing on the final year of Higgins’ rookie contract dashed due to Joe Burrow‘s season-ending injury, the Bengals look to be giving strong consideration to keeping the Burrow-Higgins-Ja’Marr Chase trio together for one last ride of sorts. The Bengals hold $59.4MM in cap space — fifth-most currently — and structured Burrow’s extension in a way that makes a Higgins tag palatable. Burrow’s deal does not spike into historic cap territory until 2025.

While a future in which Chase and Higgins are signed long term is more difficult to foresee, the Bengals still carry one of the AFC’s best rosters. It is likely Burrow’s top two weapons remain in the fold for at least one more year. Higgins, 25, did not come close to posting a third straight 1,000-yard season. Burrow’s injury had plenty to do with that, though the former second-round pick started slowly. A Bengals 2023 extension offer underwhelmed Higgins, but the Bengals kept him out of trades. A tag will give Cincinnati the option to rent him for 2024. A tag-and-trade transaction is viewed as unlikely, as the Bengals load up again.

How the organization proceeds beyond 2024 will be a key storyline, but the Bengals — who kept Jessie Bates in similar fashion in 2022 — are positioned well to run back perhaps the NFL’s best receiving tandem. While director of player personnel Duke Tobin stopped short of guaranteeing Higgins will be a Bengal in 2024, signs point to it.

Justin Madubuike, DL (Ravens)
Tag cost: $22.1MM

Seeing their defensive coordinator depart and once again facing questions at outside linebacker, the Ravens have the option of keeping their top 2023 pass rusher off the market. They are probably going to take that route. Madubuike raised his price considerably during an impact contract year, leading the Ravens with 13 sacks. While Mike Macdonald was able to coax surprising seasons from late additions Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, Madubuike drove Baltimore’s defensive engine and will likely be guaranteed a high salary by signing his franchise tender.

Perennially interested in hoarding compensatory picks, the Ravens have regularly let breakthrough pass rushers walk in free agency. This dates back to the likes of Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee and subsequently included Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon. The Ravens have only been able to replace Judon with stopgap options — from Clowney to Van Noy to Justin Houston — and again must figure out a solution alongside Odafe Oweh on the edge. Madubuike, 26, proved too good to let walk; the former third-round pick will once again be expected to anchor Baltimore’s pass rush in 2024.

Antoine Winfield Jr., S (Buccaneers)
Tag cost: $17.12MM

We mentioned Winfield as the Bucs’ most likely tag recipient around the midseason point, and signs now point to that reality coming to pass. The Bucs want to re-sign Baker Mayfield and Mike Evans. The bounce-back quarterback’s tender price would check in at nearly $36MM, and because Evans was attached to a veteran contract, his tag number would come in well north of Higgins’ — at beyond $28MM. As such, the Bucs cuffing Winfield has always made the most sense, and after the second-generation NFL DB’s dominant contract year, it would be stunning to see the team let him walk.

The Bucs have let their recent top free agents test free agency, only to re-sign Shaquil Barrett (2021), Carlton Davis (2022) and Jamel Dean (2023). Winfield may be on a higher plane, having secured first-team All-Pro acclaim last season. Davis and Dean have never made a Pro Bowl; Winfield’s productive and well-regarded 2023 stands to separate him. Winfield, 25, tallied six sacks and three interceptions while forcing an NFL-leading six fumbles. This included a pivotal strip of DJ Chark in the Bucs’ Week 18 win over the Panthers, which clinched them the NFC South title.

Winfield will undoubtedly be eyeing a top-market safety extension. Derwin James established the current standard, $19MM per year, just before the 2022 season. Last year’s safety market did not feature big-ticket prices, for the most part, but the Falcons made Jessie Bates (four years, $64MM) an exception. If Winfield were to reach free agency, he would be expected to eclipse that.

The Bucs, who have used the tag three times in the 2020s, should not be considered likely to let Winfield follow Davis and Dean’s path by speaking with other teams. Tampa Bay has used the tag three times in the 2020s, cuffing Barrett in 2020 and tagging Chris Godwin twice. The team eventually re-signed both, and while the statuses of Mayfield and Evans (and All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs) create a crowded contract queue, the Bucs will certainly be interested in re-upping Winfield.

On tag radar

Saquon Barkley, RB (Giants)
Tag cost: $12MM

Barkley has said he wants to finish his career with the Giants, and the team will meet with the Pro Bowl running back’s camp at the Combine. But a recent report indicated the team is highly unlikely to tag the six-year veteran a second time. The Giants should not be ruled out from reversing course and keeping Barkley, given his importance to an otherwise low-octane offense, but it appears they are prepared to move on if the talented RB does not accept their extension offer this time around. A host of talented backs await in free agency, though Barkley would likely be the top prize were he to reach the market.

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Bucs’ Mike Evans On Track For Free Agency

A number of contracts around the NFL are set to void today, the eve of the franchise tag window. In the case of the Buccaneers, that is the true of key pending free agents Baker Mayfield, Antoine Winfield Jr. and wideout Mike Evans.

Tampa Bay is eyeing an agreement with Mayfield before free agency opens one month from now. The tag looms as a logical course of action in Winfield’s case, meanwhile. For Evans, though, today’s contract change marked an unofficial deadline to work out a new deal. No movement on that front has taken place, leaving him on track to reach the open market in March.

No Evans signing will take place today, Dianna Russini of The Athletic reports. The parties have been in talks on a new deal, which would be his third with the franchise. As Russini adds, Evans and the Bucs are expected to continue negotiating “in good faith” through the franchise tag window and into the build-up for free agency.

However, Bleacher Report’s Jordan Schultz notes the sides remain “far apart” with respect to terms on an agreement. As a result, significant progress will need to be made in the near future to avoid Evans hitting the market and thus opening the door to a departure. The 30-year-old helped his value in 2023 by delivering another strong season. Evans topped the 1,000-yard mark again, extending his career-opening streak to 10 years in that regard. He also tied for the league lead with 13 receiving touchdowns, developing chemistry with Mayfield through the season and Tampa Bay’s run to the divisional round.

Evans and the Bucs talked extension this past offseason, leading up to the former first-rounder’s self-imposed Week 1 deadline. The sides did not come close to an agreement, putting them in a similar situation to where they are now. Tampa Bay remained interested in a new deal during the season, but Evans upped his market value with his play. The Texas A&M alum will be hard-pressed to land a five-year contract like he did in 2018, but he could secure an AAV similar to the $16.5MM mark of his expiring pact,

Tampa Bay already has Chris Godwin on the books for the coming season at a cap hit of $27.53MM. He is set to cost $18.85MM in 2025, the first of three void years on his pact. Managing to retain Evans while also keeping Godwin in place will prove challenging if the Buccaneers are to also authorize Mayfield and Winfield to raises on either new multi-year deals or the franchise tag.

Winfield, Mayfield and Evans will now take up roughly $16MM in dead cap charges for 2024 with no new contracts being worked out today, Greg Auman of Fox Sports details. That has no effect on their pending free agency, but it could provide added incentive to the team to work out an agreement before the new league year. In Evans’ case, it appears that will not transpire.

NFC Notes: Buccaneers, Packers, Magee

The Buccaneers dipped into the realm of college football to hire University of Kentucky offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Liam Coen. The team didn’t stop there, reaching out twice more to help fill out the rest of their offensive coaching staff recently.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report that Coen and company were dipping back to Lexington in order to poach offensive quality control coach Brian Picucci. The hunt was apparently successful as Josh Alper of NBC Sports followed up to confirm that Picucci would be heading to Tampa Bay as the team’s new assistant offensive line coach.

The Buccaneers also went to the college ranks in order to fill their position for wide receivers coach. According to Schefter, University of Georgia wide receivers coach and pass game coordinator Bryan McClendon has been hired as Tampa Bay’s new wide receivers coach. McClendon has been a long-time college staffer and is well-regarded in coaching circles.

As running backs coach for the Bulldogs from 2009-14, McClendon coached Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb. As wide receivers coach at South Carolina from 2016-19, McClendon mentored Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards, and Shi Smith. He also had two years of offensive coordinator experience with the Gamecocks, as well. McClendon will inherit a wide receiving corps featuring Chris Godwin, Russell Gage, and Trey Palmer, and he will likely hope the team can come to terms with long-time star, and pending free agent, Mike Evans.

Here are a few other staff updates from around the NFC:

  • In the Packers‘ front office, it has been made known that team president and chief executive officer Mark Murphy is going to retire in July 2025. The organization has reportedly formed a search committee in order to find Murphy’s replacement. Packers executive committee vice president and lead director Susan Finco will chair the committee and executive committee secretary and chair of the personnel and compensation committee Dan Ariens will serve as vice chairperson. The search committee is comprised of several individuals throughout the organization’s structure and will utilize the national search firm Korn Ferry to conduct the search. The expectation is that the process will take around six to nine months.
  • Lastly, the Bears will also be losing a member of their front office, though this one is in effect immediately. According to Matt Zenitz of CBS Sports, Chicago’s chief of staff Sean Magee will be departing for a job in the collegiate ranks. Magee is expected to be hired as senior associate athletic director and general manager for football at the University of Michigan.