Bucs Top WRs Not Likely To Be Traded8 min read
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By: Bailey Adams
With Tom Brady’s Feb. 1 retirement, the Bucs’ Super Bowl window seemingly slammed shut. But as Pewter Report has outlined plenty of times (here, here and here), that doesn’t mean Tampa Bay is entering outright tank mode – especially not in an incredibly weak NFC South.
The Bucs just aren’t going to have any interest in punting on the 2023 season before it even begins. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a continued discussion throughout the offseason in one fashion or another, especially given that the team currently sits about $55 million over the salary cap. Lately, the vehicle that many analysts and fans alike are using to drive the “Bucs are tanking” discourse is the idea of Tampa Bay trading one of its top two receivers, either Mike Evans or Chris Godwin.
On the surface, it’s understandable that this is a talking point right now. But while it’s a good bit of fun for fans who want their teams to land a top receiver – and analysts who want to see top talent in bigger markets – it’s just not going to be a reality this offseason. And here’s why.
Parting Ways Evans Or Godwin Isn’t Worth The Payoff For The Bucs
The reason Evans and Godwin are finding their names circulating in trade speculation is twofold. For one, it’s the idea that the Bucs aren’t going to be a contender again any time soon, meaning they’ll want to sell high and build up draft capital to build for the future. And secondly, it’s Tampa Bay’s cap situation. Sending Evans or Godwin elsewhere via trade would net the team some much-needed cap space. But the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t make enough of a difference cap-wise for a move of this magnitude to be worth it.
The team hypothetically acquiring Evans in a trade would assume $13 million of his salary. Because of how scarce the wide receiver free agency market is combined with the fact that the draft class doesn’t seem to have a Ja’Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson type, there’s a lot of value there. So, the Bucs would ask for a lot in a trade for Evans. But is there enough of a benefit for them to consider it?
Evans is entering the final year of his contract, and he’s carrying a $23,698,500 cap hit for 2023. The Bucs would save themselves from that cap hit if they traded him, but they’d also eat $21,396,500 in dead money. That means trading the best offensive player in franchise history would net the Bucs just $2,302,000 in cap savings.
Is that worth it? Not when you consider how tough it would be for Tampa Bay to replace him. The team would be swapping out a nine-time 1,000-yard receiver and four-time Pro Bowler for a cheap veteran or a rookie. Every little bit of cap relief helps with the situation the Bucs are in, but in this case, it’s just not worth it. And that’s before even getting into the sentimental impact such a move would have on the locker room, as well as the fan base.
The situation with Godwin is a similar one. He’s carrying a $23,750,000 cap hit for 2023, but the Bucs would eat $15 million in dead cap if they were to trade him, which means the net gain is $8.75 million. Now, that’s a heftier chunk of cap space Tampa Bay would be creating, but most of the knocks against an Evans trade laid out above apply to Godwin as well.
The soon-to-be 27-year-old just signed a three-year contract extension in 2022, and replacing him would be plenty costly. It’s unlikely that Tampa Bay could replace his production, especially with an $8 million receiver or a draft pick. It would be a gamble, to say the least. In his return from the torn ACL he suffered at the end of the 2022 season, Godwin surpassed 1,000 yards and finished with the second-most catches in a single season in Bucs history in 2023. He was rounding into pre-injury form just as the season came to an end, too.
So, if the biggest reason to trade Evans or Godwin is the cap relief such a move would provide and said cap relief really isn’t significant enough to offset the loss of production from either player, it’s should be a non-starter. It would be more worth it for the Bucs to explore a contract extension with Evans and create some space that way or approach Godwin for a restructure. Going that route is the best way for Tampa Bay to stay competitive – as it hopes to do – while drawing closer to cap compliance.
Tampa Bay Already Has Enough Holes On Its Roster As It Is
Quite frankly, the Bucs have enough problems as it is. They don’t need “replace a top receiver” on their to-do list this offseason. They already need a new quarterback. They’re already set to lose five of their top seven defensive backs to free agency. A decision will have to be made on longtime captain Lavonte David. And as cap cuts are made, the Bucs could soon have vacancies to fill at left tackle, running back, tight end and kicker.
As Tampa Bay head coach Todd Bowles has said multiple times since the team’s season-ending loss to the Cowboys last month, the goal this offseason is to reload rather than rebuild. Now, leadership for every team in transition is going to say that. But it stands to reason that Bowles, general manager Jason Licht and the Bucs brass is operating that way.
As the Bucs look to reload, doing so with two top receivers on the roster will make life much easier for whoever steps in for Brady at quarterback. In fact, Evans and Godwin, along with Rachaad White, Cade Otton, Ryan Jensen and Tristan Wirfs make up a strong core for Tampa Bay’s offense. The path back to competing – in the division, the conference and the league – is much easier with that core in place.
The Bucs Aren’t Going To Voluntarily Jump Into Tank Mode
There are plenty of reasons why Tampa Bay won’t play for a top pick in the 2024 Draft. The main one, though, is that it just doesn’t work that way. “Tanking” is much more of an offseason talking point, at least until we get late into the regular season. When a team is clearly uncompetitive and finds itself in play for a top-five pick in the closing weeks of a season, that’s when a tank might actually go into effect. Think the Bucs pulling starters at halftime in Week 17 of the 2014 season and then promptly blowing their lead to the Saints en route to the No. 1 overall pick, for example.
Going into 2023, the Bucs aren’t planning to be uncompetitive. An NFL career can come and go in a year, so imagine asking guys in the prime of their careers like Wirfs, Vita Vea, Devin White and Calrton Davis to go out and tank. It wouldn’t go well, to say the least. Not to mention, the NFC South was the worst division in football last year and appears primed to retain that status in 2023. So, if the Bucs can be more efficient on offense with new coordinator Dave Canales, retool the defense and marry both sides of the ball together, they’ll feel they can three-peat as division champions by beating out the Saints, Panthers and Falcons.
Now, just because the Bucs won’t set out to tank doesn’t mean they’ll be a good team. They may very well be a bad team and head toward a top pick in 2024. But they’re not trading either of their top two receivers in an effort for that to become a reality.
Think about the ramifications of such a move and the message it sends, too. The Glazers surely don’t have any interest in their team returning to its previous form. Trading a fan favorite receiver in the same offseason that the greatest quarterback of all time retired wouldn’t be received very well within the fan base, especially for the season ticket holders who were locked into a two-year commitment last offseason.
One Receiver Is Likely On His Way Out, But It’s Not Evans Nor Godwin
As much talk as there is about trading Evans or Godwin to create some cap space, the likelier move for the Bucs involves another wide receiver. Russell Gage, who signed a three-year, $30 million contract with Tampa Bay last offseason, may be a cap casualty this offseason after a disappointing debut season with the Bucs. The former Atlanta Falcon looked good early on in training camp last summer, but a hamstring injury set him back and impacted him for much of the season.
Cutting Gage would save the Bucs $2.8 million in cap space and while that’s been the main talking point regarding the potential move, the bigger motive to part ways with him comes with the guaranteed money he’d be owed if he sticks around for 2023. Gage’s contract with Tampa Bay included $20 million in guarantees, with $15 million fully guaranteed at signing.
Now, if he’s on the roster on the third day of the new league year, the remaining $5 million becomes fully guaranteed as well. That means his 2023 dead cap hit would be larger than the cap hit would be if they let him go. Additionally, the Bucs may just want to save the $10 million in cash they would owe him for the season. And by releasing Gage now as opposed to next offseason, they would be cleaning up their 2024 books, as all of Gage’s prorated cap charges would accelerate to 2023 and he would represent zero dead money in 2024.
It’s much more plausible to expect the Bucs to cut Gage while extending Evans’ contract and/or restructuring Godwin’s deal this offseason. A trade for either of their top two receivers shouldn’t be on the table – and it likely won’t be.
The post Bucs Top WRs Not Likely To Be Traded appeared first on Pewter Report.
Originally posted on Pewter Report