TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The 2023 NFL regular season kicks off Thursday night, and while most fans will be watching the opener, for Tampa Bay, all eyes are on Mike Evans and his uncertain future with the Buccaneers.

Last week, news broke that contract negotiations between the Bucs and Evans hit a snag, with the two unable to reach an agreement. Evans’ agent, Deryk Gilmore, informed the Buccaneers organization they had until Sept. 9 to make the wide receiver a “Buc for life” or they’ll “discontinue contract discussions.”

But there’s some confusion with the deadline. Will Evans stay a Buc if the team offers a deal after the deadline has passed? Will he start talking to other organizations? There’s a lot to unload with this development.

“The latest developments, if you want to call them developments because its actually a stalemate, is that early reports of good feelings between both sides – those are true,” Bucs Insider Dan Lucas said during Wednesday’s episode of Bucs Bonus. “Mike Evans himself is clearly aware of the Bucs’ limitations, not only this year but next year with dead cap and where he would fit in.”

Money is the key to the contract equation, and just before free agency began, Tampa Bay was more than $55 million over the salary cap, which forced them to purge several veteran players. On top of that, the Bucs were still footing the bill on retired quarterback Tom Brady’s contract, which counted $35 million against the salary cap this year.

However, Brady is no longer the missing piece; it’s Evans. The wide receiver, who is entering his 10th season in the league, all with the Bucs, loves being in Tampa Bay. It matters to him if he’s here or not.

“In my conversations with Mike Evans, through his whole career, it matters him being here. It matters to him. He loves being here – he came here in dark times and went through the era,” Lucas said. “Now that Brady is gone, Evans is looking around and is realizing this team is not bad…I can help this team get back to the top. That’s how he’s looking at it. I guarantee you that.”

When Bucs Insiders Karen Loftus and Lucas were asked if they thought the Bucs would be able to close a multi-year deal before the deadline, they were optimistic. However, they could see the contract situation turning into something they’ve seen before with Devin White.

“You guys know my eternal optimist,” Loftus said. “Everybody is going to be happy. Everything is going to be fine. Of course, obviously.”

“I think we’ll wind up with a Devin White situation,” Lucas added.

Earlier this year, linebacker Devin White requested to be traded as he was coming up on his fifth-year option. The Bucs made it clear they didn’t want to trade him since he’d been one of Tampa’s key players in recent years.

Then, days before the Bucs’ preseason kicked off, White opened up about his trade request, saying he “got a little selfish.”

“Something appeased Devin White, who was a little bit more vocal in his own situation with the team for weeks. I think there could be something behind the scenes, kinda like everybody hedging bets on themselves, which is what they’re doing with Devin White essentially.”

While Lucas and Loftus are optimistic a deal will get done, the reconstruction of linebacker Shauqil Barrett’s contract could have “implications” for contract negotiations with Evans, according to Bucs Wire.

On Wednesday, ESPN’s Field Yates reported that the Bucs cleared $10.468 million in cap space this season with Barrett’s reconstruction. The 30-year-old outside linebacker is recovering from a torn Achilles last year, and the reconstruction means it’s likely he’ll be on the roster in 2024.

“Extending Evans or White might have given Tampa additional cap space this season by shifting some of their existing obligations. Instead, the Bucs retooled the contract of a 30-year-old pass rusher coming off a torn Achilles. Though this does not rule out the possibility of Evans or White signing a new deal with Tampa, it does remove some of the immediate cap relief incentives,” Bucs Wire’s Jason Kanno wrote.

However, at the end of the day, football is a business, and it’s up to the Bucs to decide if Evans retires a Buccaneer, but no matter what, Evans will be ready to play.

“It doesn’t change anything. Mike is in great shape. He is ready to go for the season. He is excited about it,” Bucs’ head coach Todd Bowles said Wednesday. “There is a business side of football, as we all know. That takes care of itself, but there will be no distractions.”

During Thursday’s practice, Evans was asked if he’d still be open to returning to Tampa if a deal isn’t reached by tomorrow, to which he replied, “Ownership and management are going to do what they feel is best for the team and the team’s future. I’m going to do what’s best for me and my future. Right now, that’s just playing some good ball.”

“Yeah, my agent set the deadline. I’m sure y’all read the statement,” Evans said Thursday. “Obviously, we’ve been working with them for over a year now trying to get something done. Any player in my position would want to be solidified and secure. But if a deal is done or not, either way, I’m going to be okay and I’m looking forward to having a great season this year.”

Come Saturday, hopefully, Bucs fans will know if they can count on No. 13 staying in Tampa Bay until his last game. For our Bucs Insiders, they know Evans will be considered the greatest Buccaneer ever if the team brings him back.

“I think he could be the greatest Buccaneer ever if the Bucs bring him back. That’s what’s at stake with this Mike Evans contract. By the time he is done, he will leave a standard and all of the indicators, whatever you want to pick with offense, numbers that may not be attainable for future Bucs players. That’s the Mike Evans legacy that I’m talking about.”

Since being drafted by the Bucs in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Evans has recorded 1,000-plus receiving yards in each of his nine seasons, the longest active streak in the league. His 10,425 receiving yards and 81 touchdowns each rank in the top three NFL since he entered the NFL as well.