Mike Evans began his career catching passes from Josh McCown and Mike Glennon. Then came Jameis Winston and the Ryan Fitzpatrick experience. For the past two years, the Pro Bowl receiver upgraded to the G.O.A.T., Tom Brady.
"It's been an unbelievable last two seasons," Evans told NFL.com in an interview promoting PLANTERS® to help fuel the "All or One" debate. "I'd never imagined I had the opportunity to play with Tom Brady, the greatest athlete in sports history. He instilled a lot of things in this team, and we're going to implement that moving forward. Obviously, it's the biggest shoes to fill, but we've got to step up."
Who fills those Brady-sized shoes is the biggest question in Tampa this season. Before TB12's arrival, the Bucs were a team with talent that consistently came up short, missing the playoffs for 12 consecutive seasons.
After a Super Bowl victory and the Bucs' first division title since 2007, Evans said the lessons instilled by Brady would live on even without the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
"We've got to keep doing what we've been doing," Evans said. "We'll figure out the quarterback when we do. Hopefully, we find that out soon, so I can get in some work with him. But like I said (Brady), instilled things in us, work ethic, making sure we're on top of our game, week in and week out. Making sure bodies are healthy, making sure they can feel as good as they feel. He definitely taught us that these last two years, and we've just got to keep it going."
The Bucs feel like a wild card in the QB carousel this offseason. With the taste of winning enveloping Tampa, general manager Jason Licht could take a big swing in an attempt to bring in a big name. He could look toward free agency, where several veterans have experience, but lack consistent success. A reunion with Winston feels unlikely but stranger things have happened. The Bucs could retain backup Blaine Gabbert, a free agent. Or, perhaps, they hand the reins to second-round quarterback Kyle Trask, who didn't play a snap during his rookie season.
Evans told NFL.com that he isn't planning to lobby the front office to pursue any quarterback.
"I'm not," he said. "I got to play with Tom Brady, so that was pretty cool. Whoever the quarterback is, it's my job to be as open as possible for them and catch as many balls as I can. I don't know what the team's thinking."
Trask remains a big unknown as he sat behind Brady. After participating in all three preseason games, the rookie played student, learning from the master.
"I know Kyle is a really talented guy. He sat behind Tom, watched a lot, observed," Evans said. "He's a really talented guy. ... He has really great arm talent, and he's a student of the game, sitting back learning this year. Hopefully, he has a big leap next year.
"I don't know where we are going to go, but whoever it is, I'll be ready."
Outside of quarterback, the Bucs have other big names set to hit the free-agent market. Despite suffering an ACL tear, Chris Godwin played on the franchise tag and is in line for a big deal. Rob Gronkowski, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul, O.J. Howard, Carlton Davis, Jordan Whitehead, and others headline the Bucs' list of potential free agents.
Despite Tampa wading into uncertainty, Evans noted a young core should keep the Bucs in contention if they find the right QB.
"We've still got a lot of core guys, young guys coming back next year," he said. "Hopefully, we can get most of our free agents back. I like our chances. We're a tough team. We've just got to see who the quarterback is."
Evans is on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory himself, generating eight-straight 1,000-yard seasons to open his career. He earned his fourth Pro Bowl selection this season and owns a Super Bowl ring.
He'll also go down as the answer to the trivia question: Who caught the final touchdown pass of Tom Brady's legendary career?
"It'll be memorable down the line," Evans said of the 55-yard score in the NFC Divisional Round loss to L.A. "Right now, it's pretty fresh. I mean, it's off a loss. Looking back on it, it's going to be cool for sure."
With the Tom Brady era over, the next phase begins for the Bucs. But with Evans still in his prime, Tampa's offense still has pieces to remain competitive regardless of who the heir is in 2022.
Evans spoke to NFL.com as part of his promotional effort on behalf of the PLANTERS® brand, which is attempting to spark a debate with its latest Super Bowl ad on just how America eats PLANTERS® Deluxe Mixed Nuts -- all together or one at a time?
Evans explained that he's part of the one-at-a-time crew.
"I'm just helping Planters promote the best peanut brand in the land," he said. "I'm just helping them promote the mixed nuts and the Super Bowl commercial they've got coming up. It's really funny. The guy from the Hangover (Ken Jeong) is in it. The question I ask everybody, 'How do you eat your mixed nuts?'
"I'm a one at a time guy. There are five different nuts in here, so I've got to pick out one by one, my favorites, and then I go to the ones that are left. My favorites are the pistachios. So I take the pistachios out first. I try to find those first. Pistachios or almonds. And then the rest, I'll eat those after my favorites are out."