TAMPA, Fla. — With his 90 receiving yards against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans continues to rewrite the franchise record books.
Evans has been one of the biggest glimmers of hope in an otherwise bleak 2018 season.
One mark that remains is the Bucs’ single-season record of 1,422 yards, set by Mark Carrier 29 years ago. Evans, who has 1,418 yards, is 5 yards shy of breaking that record and will likely do so in Sunday’s season finale against Atlanta Falcons (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
“I’m more upset about the loss, obviously,” Evans said after the Bucs’ 27-20 defeat to the Cowboys.
Evans, 25, has already snagged the franchise records in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns (38) and the most 100-yard games in Bucs history (20). His 5,997 receiving yards are currently sixth-most by an NFL player through his first five seasons since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger.
He is only the third player in league history to record 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first five seasons, joining Randy Moss (1998-02) and A.J. Green (2011-15).
“That’s Mike, man. He’s one of the best players to play the game,” quarterback Jameis Winston said. “He’s going to keep getting better. I’m just happy I get to throw that guy the ball.”
The Bucs are 5-10, marking the fourth time in Evans’ five seasons that the team has suffered double-digit losses. In fact, Tampa Bay has had double-digit losing seasons seven out of the past 10.
If the franchise don’t turn things around, Evans’ efforts will all have been a waste beyond personal measures. His ability to be “Mr. Dependable” for everyone from Winston to Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown and Mike Glennon will be quickly forgotten without more to show for it.
Look at Gerald McCoy, the 2010 No. 3 draft pick who made it to six consecutive Pro Bowls and is still considered one of the NFL’s better defensive tackles. He has played under four head coaches, had two winning seasons and has never been to the playoffs.
Neither has weakside linebacker Lavonte David, who is easily one of the best 4-3 linebackers in the league, even if he gets grossly overlooked in Pro Bowl balloting each year. He has been part of one winning season in Tampa.
David will be 29 next month and McCoy 31 in two months; that’s a lot of talent no one ever got to see on a national stage because the Bucs have been in such disarray. It’s not for lack of caring. One could argue the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, has expected too much and shown too little patience with rebuilding.
The family has a right to be impatient when it comes to young stars such as Evans, a 2014 first-round draft pick who was awarded a five-year, $82.5 million contract last offseason. He has lived up to expectations, not only on the field, but off of it in the community.
But Evans won’t be able to outrun defensive backs forever, and his body won’t be able to withstand those punishing hits, either, even if he has missed only three games in his pro career.
Will he end up like Carrier, who never reached the playoffs with the Buccaneers? All six of Carrier’s seasons with Tampa Bay were filled with double-digit losses.
Evans will tell you he would rather win games than break records. It’s the same for McCoy and David, two model players whom the team tried to build around, but up until this point, has failed.
The Buccaneers need to think about all of these players as they contemplate personnel moves over the next few days. Whose playcalling will allow the Bucs to continue to maximize Evans’ talents? Could the Bucs benefit from a fifth year in coach Dirk Koetter’s offense, or have they gone as far as they can with it?
Evans’ prime years are now. The Buccaneers shouldn’t let them go to waste.