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FAB 1. It’s Jensen Turn For An Extension From Bucs
Bucs general manager Jason Licht liked Ryan Jensen the first time he met him. The two Midwesterners instantly bonded on a free agent recruiting trip.
Perhaps it was Licht’s background as a college guard. Maybe it was the fact that Licht loved the fact that Jensen’s red-hot temperament on the field matched his long red hair. Licht had a custom “Big Red” Bucs helmet made to help sway Jensen to sign with Tampa Bay over other teams that were in hot pursuit.
After one full season as a starter in Baltimore in 2017, Licht made a bold move, making Jensen the highest-paid center in the league in 2018 with a four-year, $42 million contract. Jensen had a 72.3 grade from Pro Football Focus in his final season with the Ravens at the age of 26. But in his first year in Tampa Bay, Jensen wasn’t as his best.
He showed up overweight and admittedly a little big-headed about his new contract. Jensen committed 11 penalties, gave up one sack, 10 hits and 25 QB pressures. Embarrassed, he vowed to improve his play in 2019, which he did upon the arrival of Bruce Arians and a new coaching staff.
Arians’ power-man blocking scheme fit Jensen like a glove. He trimmed down, and more importantly, he cut down on the penalties – committing just three in 2019. He also allowed fewer hits (three) and less QB pressures (15) while earning a 79.3 grade from Pro Football Focus.
Last year he earned a 64.9 grade from PFF while committing four penalties, surrendering four sacks, four hits and 23 QB pressures. But offensive line guru Brandon Thorn of Trench Warfare, who was on Wednesday’s Pewter Report Podcast, disagrees with PFF’s grades and states that Jensen is the best center in the league following the Bucs’ Super Bowl LV season.
“I think the last two seasons he’s developed to an extent to where I believe he has a very strong case to be considered the best center in the NFL,” Thorn said. “I’ve kind of went out on a limb and said that he has been the last couple of years. Last year I had him as a second-team All-Pro, so last year I didn’t think he was quite the best. But he’s in the conversation. He’s an elite player because of the things he does well. When you watch the sheer number of times that he is putting guys on the ground, no center compares to him. I don’t know if PFF tracks knockdowns. I don’t believe they do, but that is something that I would be interested to track just as another data point because I do think that there is some value there.
“To me when you watch Ryan Jensen play, his ability to impose his will on defenders and tilt them and create imbalances in their base and then put them in the ground. It’s just unparalleled. He’s doing it to Kenny Clark, he’s doing it to Da’Ron Payne, Michael Brockers – he’s doing it to all these guys. He is putting them in the ground and he’s having dominant reps against them. I would challenge anybody to find any center who is putting high level interior defensive linemen on their back anywhere near the rate that Ryan Jensen has over the last two seasons. That’s not counting linebackers and DBs, who he obliterates.”
Ryan Jensen official highlight tape preview…full 14+ minute video dropping tomorrow for Trench Warfare subscribers along with several others 👀
Thorn said that Jensen is one of the league’s best complete centers.
“He also is very consistently refined and reliable in pass protection,” Thorn said. “He very rarely misses an assignment and when he does it’s because he’s being asked to cover two gaps over and he just can’t get there in time. He’s very good about keeping the A gaps clean.
Bucs C Ryan Jensen – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“As a run blocker I think he’s very good. He can create movement in the downhill, vertical duo type system that Tampa runs. He can get out in space effectively and be an asset that way. He’s a diverse run blocker with a really good skill set, and I think he’s a dominant pass protector at this point. That was something I think he was the weakest at in Baltimore. But now it’s like reversed. He’s just become a really good pass blocker. All that stuff is why I think he’s the most impactful center in the NFL.”
As Jensen enters his final season with the Bucs where he’s set to earn $10 million, it’s time to extend his contract. He’s earned it.
While there is some thought at One Buccaneer Place about letting Jensen play out the final year of his contract to see how he performs at age 30, Licht is also pondering doing an extension prior to the start of the season.
Jensen is the league’s fifth-highest paid center in 2020, averaging $10.5 million per season. Detroit’s Frank Ragnow leads the way, averaging $13.5 million per season. Next up is Los Angeles Chargers center Corey Linsley, who averages $12.5 million per year, followed by Indianapolis’ Ryan Kelly at an average of $12.4125 million. Cleveland’s J.C. Trotter is just ahead of Jensen, averaging $10.85 million per year.
While some offensive linemen can play well into their 30s, centers rarely do. That’s due to the immediate banging centers face off the snap and the double teams they engage in.
San Francisco’s Alex Mack is the oldest current center at 36. He’s also making just $4.95 million in 2021 because he’s in the twilight of his career. Philadelphia’s Jason Kelce ($9 million) is 34 and nearing the end of his career. Three centers are age 32 – Tennessee’s Ben Jones, Carolina’s Matt Paradis and Arizona’s Rodney Hudson – followed by 10 centers, who are 30, including Jensen.
“He’s played 100 percent of snaps every season over the last four prior to last year where he played 99 percent of snaps,” Thorn said. “I don’t think any center in the league has been as available for his team as consistently as Ryan Jensen has over the last four years.”
Bucs C Ryan Jensen and LG Ali Marpet – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“The only thing that will hold Jensen back next year is injury,” Thorn said. “Obviously the way he plays the game, the wear and tear, the shelf life – that’s the question. Is it going to fall off? When is that going to happen? When is he not going to be able to deal with the injuries he’s already dealt with as well as he has – because he’s dealt with some serious stuff that some people may not realize.”
Nothing more than a two-year extension makes sense given Jensen’s age. And keeping him at $10 million seems fair, as he would still be among the league’s Top 5 highest-paid centers.
Since Licht signed Jensen in 2018, he’s extended the contract of left guard Ali Marpet, and extended left tackle Donovan Smith twice.
Now it’s Jensen turn. With quarterback Tom Brady signed through the 2023 season, it only makes sense to extend Jensen for two more years to sync up both contracts.
The Bucs drafted offensive lineman Robert Hainsey in the third round in April, and maybe he’s the long-term solution at center as Jensen’s eventual replacement. But he spent four years at Notre Dame primarily at right tackle.
As Marpet found out when he moved from right guard to center in 2017, it’s not that easy of a transition. The Bucs are better off keeping Jensen for another year or two and having him mentor Hainsey. The last thing Tampa Bay needs during its brief Brady-Super Bowl window is sub-par play at center.
Jensen’s play is far from sub-par. According to Thorn, it’s elite.
It’s time to make Jensen the latest Bucs to re-sign with Tampa Bay.
FAB 2. Bucs Salary Cap Update
Even with the official signing of Antonio Brown this week the Bucs won’t have to make any other roster moves to sign the three remaining unsigned draft picks – outside linebacker Joe Tryon, quarterback Kyle Trask and offensive lineman Robert Hainsey. The pay cut that Cameron Brate took was enough to get those rookies signed. And keep Tampa Bay under the salary cap.
Bucs GM Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs currently have $1.48 million in cap space with Brown’s signing. And keep in mind that only the cap numbers of the top 51 players count in the offseason.
If Tampa Bay extended the contract of Ryan Jensen prior to the 2021 campaign it could create more cap room. Jensen is the sixth-highest paid Buccaneer, and is set to make $10 million in his contract year. If the Bucs tacked on another year or two, the team could lower his 2021 cap value by $1 million or more and give him a raise in 2022 to compensate.
All teams were relieved to see the 2022 salary cap rise by 14 percent over this year’s $182.5 million. The salary cap next year will be $208.2 million. That will go a long way to helping re-sign Chris Godwin, Jason Pierre-Paul, Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard, William Gholston and others.
The Bucs currently have 53 players under contract for the 2022 season. They have $186,798,397 on the books already, according to OverTheCap.com. Tampa Bay currently has $21,401,603 in available cap space in 2022.
FAB 3. Wirfs NFL’s Top Right Tackle, Hainsey Shows Promise
Jason Licht has spent eight draft picks on offensive linemen in his eight years as the team’s general manager. Half of those draft picks – Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Alex Cappa and Tristan Wirfs – are starters.
Wirfs, the 13th pick in the 2020 draft, might be the best of them when it’s all said and done. After allowing just one sack and being penalized three times, Wirfs was recently named the sixth best offensive tackle in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I thought Tristan Wirfs was the best right tackle in the NFL last year,” Thorn said. “From Week 1 to the end of the year. Traits-wise, it’s his anchor. It’s his play strength. Those two things I think are special. The performances he had against elite-level competition, that to me was enough for me to go out and say a rookie was the best player at his position in the league because he was just dominating All-Pro level players – or at least playing very well against them. Maybe not dominating all of them, Khalil Mack being an example of where obviously he got the better against them a couple of times.
“If I’m projecting right tackles, it’s him, Ryan Ramczyk, Lane Johnson. Those are the three best right tackles in the league in my mind.”
If Wirfs can come close to having the type of 2021 season as he did as a rookie he will garner serious Pro Bowl and All-Pro consideration.
Licht’s latest offensive line pick, this year’s third-round Robert Hainsey, played right tackle at Notre Dame, but will transition inside at the next level. He played guard and center at the Senior Bowl and his quick get off and power in Mobile caught the attention of Tampa Bay’s scouts – as well as Thorn’s.
“I think if he has the opportunity to play due to injury that you can definitely expect to see some real nice flashes from him,” Thorn said. “While he gets his body more developed and gains more functional strength that – I think we mentioned this on the draft show – he’ll have kind of a similar trajectory to Alex Cappa. He’s very technically sound. I think he’s quicker than Alex Cappa is in terms of how he moves laterally and off the ball. I think he’s a little quicker, but very similar in terms of needing work on their body and getting stronger. He can play center like he did at the Senior Bowl. I think his skill set translates very well to that position.
“I think it was a good pick because it gives them a nice insurance policy in case any three of the interior guys go down. Then Hainsey could probably fill in. Those guys have obviously dealt with injuries the last couple of years. We saw at least with Marpet’s case, obviously the dramatic fall of the offense (against the Saints at home in a 38-3 loss). You can’t have that. That was the weakness of the team. So to get Hainsey he kind of gives you that insurance if any of those three go down. If the opportunity presented itself he wouldn’t be as good as those guys, but I think he would be as close to Cappa as anybody. But you could insert him into the lineup and the drop off wouldn’t be as dramatic.”
Bucs OL Robert Hainsey – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
With reserve A.Q. Shipley retired from playing due to injury and transitioning to coaching in Tampa Bay, and fellow veteran Earl Watford not re-signed, Hainsey fills a very important role as a backup center to Ryan Jensen. While Hainsey has good position flexibility, Thorn doesn’t see him as the five-position player like head coach Bruce Arians does.
“I think they upgraded that backup swing interior lineman spot with him, and I think he has some pretty good upside to be an average to above average starter for awhile,” Thorn said. “[Left tackle] would be the position I would be the least confident in. He just doesn’t look like a left tackle. He doesn’t have the dimension for it. It would be an unusual sight to see a guy like Robert Hainsey do well at left tackle in the NFL. But I think right tackle emergency situations and then swing interior. That’s how I view him.”
FAB 4. The 10 Most Anticipated Seasons In Bucs History
Will the Bucs repeat as Super Bowl champions in 2021? That’s one of the most talked about topics in the NFL this offseason. And rightfully so, considering that for the first time in NFL history all 22 starters from a Super Bowl team return to defend the title.
If you thought last year’s Bucs season was heavily anticipated due to the arrival of legendary quarterback Tom Brady and future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski, the hype surrounding the 2020 campaign can’t match the enthusiasm for the 2021 season. But be careful what you wish for, Bucs fans. Some of the most anticipated seasons in Tampa Bay history have turned out to be fool’s gold.
Let’s take a look at the 10 most anticipated seasons in Bucs history – and what actually happened.
1. 2021 – Record: TBD
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: USA Today
Not only are all the starters back from the 2020 Super Bowl team this year, the fans will be back as well. With Brady’s arrival in Tampa Bay last year every game at Raymond James Stadium would have been sold out if not for the COVID-19 pandemic. Ray-Jay is expected to be rocking at full capacity this season, and that has everyone excited. Not only are the Bucs favorites to win the NFC South this year, they’re favorites to win the NFC again – and possibly repeat as Super Bowl champions.
2. 2020 – Record: 11-5 – Super Bowl champions
While most fans had to watch Brady and the Bucs from their couch, having the GOAT in red and pewter was excited. With Brady came hope that the Bucs would make it back to the playoffs, ending a dozen-year drought. Secretly, Tampa Bay fans fantasized about Brady possibly making history by taking the Bucs to the Super Bowl in their own stadium. Brady helped Bucs fans’ wildest dreams come true – even if most had to do it at home rather than at the stadium due to the pandemic.
3. 2000 – Record: 10-6
The Bucs were agonizingly close to their first Super Bowl in 1999 with Tampa Bay’s defense shutting down St. Louis’ “Greatest Show On Turf.” Although the Bucs, who finished 11-5, held the Rams to just 11 points, they scored just six themselves and lost a close, tough NFC Championship Game. A perfect touchdown pass from Kurt Warner to Ricky Proehl and a questionable no-catch by Bert Emanuel were the daggers. The Bucs were supposed to take the next step in 2000, but took a step backwards instead, losing in the first round of the playoffs at Philadelphia on the road.
4. 1980 – Record: 5-10-1
In just their fourth year of existence – and without the help of free agency – Tampa Bay went 10-6 in 1979 and won the NFC Central division. After a home win over Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs, the Bucs advanced to the NFC Championship Game at home, only to lose to the L.A. Rams, 9-0. There were high expectations for the Bucs in 1980 as a result, but after a 2-0 start, injuries hit the team hard. Tampa Bay would finish 5-10-1. The team lost six of its last seven games and the 1980 season was a huge disappointment.
5. 2002 – Record: 12-4 – Super Bowl champions
Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden & owner Malcolm Glazer – Photo by: USA Today
After two first-round exits in the playoffs in Philadelphia in 2000 and 2001, the Bucs fired Tony Dungy due to an underachieving offense. The Glazers made a bold trade for Oakland’s offensive-minded head coach Jon Gruden, who brought attitude and star power to Tampa Bay. Expectations were high in Gruden’s first season. The team wisely kept defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and the defensive staff intact and that helped propel the Bucs to their first and only Super Bowl. Gruden’s offense finally clicked in the postseason and the 2002 campaign culminated with the team’s first Super Bowl win over Oakland, which was Gruden’s former team.
6. 1998 – Record: 8-8
Wearing new red and pewter uniforms, the Bucs emerged as an NFC threat in 1997. The team knocked out Steve Young, Jerry Rice and the 49ers in Week 1 and started the ’97 season 5-0 en route to going 10-6 with a home wild card win over Detroit. Tampa Bay became a media darling and the trendy pick to win the NFC in the 1998 preseason. Unfortunately the hype and fame got into the Bucs’ heads and the group underachieved in 1998 with an uninspired 8-8 record.
7. 2003 – Record: 7-9
The Bucs were Super Bowl champs in 2002 and returned most of their starters the next year. Expectations were high for a potential repeat but the confetti was still reigning down in the minds of most of the players, who expected to show up and win on Sundays. The hunters became the hunted and Tampa Bay wasn’t ready for every opponent’s best shot. Close home losses to Carolina and Indianapolis set the tone, and a public feud between Gruden and Keyshawn Johnson that resulted in Johnson being suspended from the team sunk the Bucs’ ship. Tampa Bay didn’t even make the playoffs the year after winning the Super Bowl.
8. 1997 – Record: 10-6
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy and RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Expectations were high for Dungy’s second season in Tampa Bay following a 6-10 record in 1996 that featured a 5-2 mark to end the season. Tampa Bay beat rival Chicago 34-19 in the season finale at home and that ignited interest in the team in 1997. New red and pewter uniforms and a new menacing red pirate flag logo got fans excited for the 1997 campaign and the Bucs didn’t disappoint. The season ended with a 10-6 record and a home playoff win at Detroit. Bucs fever was back after a 13-year hiatus.
9. 2017 – Record: 5-11
The Bucs came close to making the playoffs in Dirk Koetter’s first year, finishing 9-7. Expectations were fueled by the development of quarterback Jameis Winston, the team’s first-round pick in 2015, and the arrival of HBO’s Hard Knocks film crew to document training camp and the preseason. Tampa Bay didn’t handle the spotlight or the expectations well. Mike Smith’s defense was a disaster in 2017 and Winston suffered a shoulder injury. New defensive tackle Chris Baker was a turd and new wide receiver DeSean Jackson was pouty, selfish player, contributing to a 5-11 season.
10. 2011 – Record: 4-12
The Bucs went 10-6 in Raheem Morris’ second season as head coach in 2010. Quarterback Josh Freeman had a sensational year throwing for 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. Feeling that Tampa Bay had “arrived,” general manager Mark Dominik didn’t do much to add to the roster in 2011 outside of the draft. The only problem is that the 2010 season was full of smoke and mirrors, featuring fourth quarter comeback wins against lowly teams like Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Arizona to pad the team’s win total. After a promising 4-1 start to the 2011 campaign, Tampa Bay would lose 10 straight in an epic free fall that would cost Morris his job.
FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots
• BUCS’ 2021 SCHEDULE GOT A LITTLE BIT HARDER: Buccaneers.com writer Carmen Vitali recently tweeted that the Bucs have the 29th hardest schedule. That’s based on their opponents’ 2020 records. However, when factoring in other variables now that the actual schedule has come out, Tampa Bay has the 12th hardest schedule in the league.
Bucs have 29th-hardest schedule based on 2020 opponent record.
Based on prep/rest variables now that we have dates/times though, they have the 12th-hardest schedule. https://t.co/llnCnyQmQG
• BRUCE ARIANS ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week in the offseason – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 4:00 p.m. ET unless there is a special event.
Pewter Report had Bucs head coach Bruce Arians on a recent episode of the Pewter Report Podcast and it was one of the most watched and listened to episodes we’ve done. Arians broke a lot of news with us, including the fact that the Bucs and Titans will be holding joint practices. If you missed that episode, be sure to watch it by clicking below.
Here are the four latest editions of the Pewter Report Podcast to watch in case you missed an episode.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and Mark Cook talked about the looming trade that will possibly send Buc killer Julio Jones out of Atlanta.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and Mark Cook broke down the Bucs’ first OTA practice of the 2021 offseason.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and special guest Brandon Thorn talked about the play of Ryan Jensen and the Bucs offensive line in 2020 and what to expect from the unit in 2022.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and Matt Matera discussed the news about the 2022 salary cap increase and the press conferences of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, outside linebackers coach Larry Foote and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.
Watch the Pewter Report Podcasts live on our PewterReportTV channel on YouTube.com and please subscribe (it’s free) and add your comments. All Pewter Report Podcasts are archived so you can watch the recorded episodes if you missed them live.
There is no better time to listen to or watch a new Pewter Report Podcast – energized by CELSIUS – than Friday afternoon on the way home from work, or early Saturday morning during your workout or while running errands.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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