Bucs' Mike Evans, who is appealing suspension, should have known consequences of brawl | Opinion

Jarrett Bell

No surprise that Tom Brady calls it “ridiculous” that the NFL has iced Mike Evans, his best receiver, from the weekend showdown against the Green Bay Packers with a one-game suspension, pending appeal, as a follow-up reaction to Sunday's melee at the Superdome.

That sentiment applies in multiple ways in this case.

It was also ridiculous that Evans risked further depleting an injury-thinned Tampa Bay wide receiver corps when he charged into a midfield fracas and blasted New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore with a forearm shove.

And it’s ridiculous, too, that former Bucs coach Bruce Arians – who turned over the reins to Todd Bowles last spring – was mixed up in the drama flowing from the latest chapter in one of the league’s most heated rivalries.

Arians was due to receive a warning in a letter from the league that a future incident could result in discipline for the former coach and the team, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity. The person did not want to be identified because the entire matter is ongoing.

Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans is appealing his one-game suspension after Sunday's brawl in New Orleans.

Evans was due to have his appeal heard on Tuesday by hearing officer James Thrash – the same former NFL receiver who upheld a one-game suspension in 2017 when Evans decked Lattimore from behind to escalate a brawl.

On his "Let’s Go!" podcast on Monday, Brady contended, “I don’t think it deserved any type of suspension. I think that’s ridiculous.”

Tell that to Lattimore and the Saints, who undoubtedly would argue that Evans receive an even stiffer penalty because of the similarity to the previous episode.

The incident early in the fourth quarter on Sunday exploded with a combination of factors that included Brady complaining to officials after a third-down incompletion, Lattimore waving off the iconic quarterback, then teammates, including Leonard Fournette, coming to Brady’s aid. Evans maintained after the game that his action wasn’t due to lingering bad blood with Lattimore but was sparked after he saw Fournette’s head snap back as he absorbed an apparent retaliatory punch from the cornerback.

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As Brady alluded to, the Bucs (2-0) left New Orleans hoping the ejections of Evans and Lattimore would largely settle the matter. When I asked Evans on Sunday whether he was worried he would get suspended, he didn’t seem to sweat the possibility.

“No. They shouldn’t,” Evans told USA TODAY Sports. “In 2017, when I really cheap-shotted him, that was real. His back was turned, so I hit him really hard. I shouldn’t have done that. I didn’t get ejected. They let me keep playing and we were down, 30-3.”

Evans contended that since he was ejected on Sunday, he didn’t expect a suspension on top of that. He pointed out that during the same week in 2017 when he hit Lattimore from behind to draw the suspension, Jalen Ramsey and AJ Green were ejected from a game in Jacksonville for fighting. Ramsey and Green played the following week.

“If it’s consistent,” Evans said of the NFL disciplinary process, “I’ll be good.”

Unless Thrash reverses the suspension levied by Jon Runyan, the NFL’s enforcement officer, Evans' defense misses the mark. Coming to the aid of a teammate won’t prevent the league from dropping the hammer. He should have known the consequences, especially given his previous experience with the league’s disciplinary process.

Nonetheless, the NFL isn’t closing the book on the incident with Evans. While Lattimore wasn’t suspended, he could be among several players, including Fournette, Bucs receiver Russell Gage and Saints safety Marcus Maye, drawing fines for their roles in the mini-brawl.

Then there’s Arians, whose presence on the sideline generated many questions since Sunday. There’s no policy that prohibits the former coach (now a senior adviser to GM Jason Licht) from being in the bench area, as each team receives a hefty allotment of sideline passes. Licht also watched the game from the Bucs' bench.

Yet being in the bench area rather than in a booth upstairs, the press box or even the owner’s suite put Arians in close proximity to the heat of the action. He was seen exchanging words with Lattimore and riding the officials – either or both actions could have resulted in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the team.

The league didn’t see the chirping from Arians on Sunday rising to the level of discipline, but it has clearly taken note by issuing the warning. While the league won’t mandate who is allowed in the team’s bench area – remember, team owners such as Jerry Jones, Michael Bidwill and Arthur Blank have often been seen in the bench area at certain points of games – it’s unclear whether the Bucs will instruct Arians to watch games from upstairs.

Surely, there’s frustration coming out of NFL headquarters from the optics of another extra-hot affair involving the Bucs and Saints, when the league would rather trumpet the hot breakout players who have emerged across the league to start the season.

Hey, it’s an emotional game, as the Bucs and Saints always seem to remind us … with the rematch slated for primetime on a Monday night in early December.