While everyone in Buc Nation and the Bucs organization is holding their breath waiting for the final diagnosis for Ryan Jensen’s knee injury, we’re all hoping and praying for some positive news. It could be a couple of days before they can get conclusive results from his MRI, but in the meantime, the Bucs are trying to stay optimistic. Unfortunately, it’s not looking too good for the Bucs’ starting center. On Friday, head coach Todd Bowles stated that Jensen would at least miss a “couple of months” but they’re still waiting to find out the severity of the injury.
IF Jensen did suffer a tear and will miss this season, then Jason Licht has a HUGE decision to make for this team. Option one is letting either second-year player Robert Hainsey or reserve lineman Nick Leverett step in as the starter with no real experience under their belt. Option two is signing a veteran free agent center to replace Jensen. No doubt that Tom Brady will have some influence on this decision. The chemistry that he shares with Jensen is unmatched and the Bucs already have to replace BOTH starting guards. Now it looks like their entire interior o-line could be new for 2022. The good news is that Brady has won Super Bowls with rookie and second-year centers before in New England, so rolling with Hainsey at center might not be a bad option after all. Then again, bringing in an experienced vet is usually the best route.
Jensen’s injury occurred during the early session of training camp on Thursday morning. By that afternoon, I can guarantee you two things happened. First, Jason Licht made an “inquisitive” phone call to free agent center JC Tretter’s agent. And second, Tom Brady made a “friendly” phone call to JC Tretter himself to “chit chat“. The seed got planted.
Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett started taking the first-team snaps at center since Jensen went down. Neither guy has been overly impressive so far. Snaps over Brady’s head and inconsistent blocking are occurring more than the Bucs staff would like, but there’s no doubt that the Bucs like both guys. In fact, they used a third-round pick on Hainsey in the 2021 Draft and are extremely excited about his development so far. My opinion is if the Bucs were truly “excited” about either one of these guys starting, then that guy would be starting and they wouldn’t just be “trying out” for the position. If this was any other season, then the Bucs would probably roll with whoever wins this position battle..
But not this season.
This season is different. This season, it’s “Super Bowl or bust” mode in Tampa Bay. Jason Licht has made that abundantly clear by the moves he’s made this offseason. He’s made this team younger and faster at some positions while adding experienced veterans at other positions. The Buccaneers’ free agent haul for this 2022 offseason has been quite impressive. Offensively with Julio Jones, Russell Gage, Kyle Rudolph, Fred Johnson, and Shaq Mason. Defensively with Logan Ryan, Keanu Neal, and Akiem Hicks. They have reloaded this roster with experienced veterans that have one thing in common.
They all want a Super Bowl ring.
This team has set a goal of winning another championship this season. Not like how most teams say their goal is to win it every year. The Bucs actually believe they are going to win it this year. And Jason Licht has been building the roster to do just that. This very well could be Tom Brady’s last ride and they want to send him off to the broadcast booth with one last title. That’s the goal. Anything less would be a disappointment.
That’s why I don’t think that Jason Licht will be satisfied with settling for Hainsey or Leverett as Tom’s starting center for this season. Now next year, after Brady retires and Kyle Trask takes over as the starting quarterback for the Buccaneers, Hainsey will likely be their starting center.
But not this season.
JC Tretter has spent the last 8 years in Cleveland where he has become one of the best centers in football, while not missing a single game over the last 5 seasons. He was ProFootballFocus.com’s 4th ranked center for 2021, while Jensen was ranked 11th in the league. The Browns had to let him go back in March to clear up cap space to sign Deshaun Watson and somehow he’s still on the market. Do you think the league’s most prolific passing offense led by the greatest quarterback of all time would be interested in signing one of the NFL’s most-premiere pass-blocking centers to replace Jensen?
After signing Julio Jones, the Buccaneers have about $8 million or so left in salary cap space. Tretter was set to make about $10 million in 2022 with the Browns, but I think he’s been waiting for the right opportunity to come around instead of another big payday. He’s earned nearly $45 million in his 9 NFL seasons, but he’s never earned a ring. I’m sure that the Bucs cap wizard himself Mike Greenberg and our genius GM Jason Licht can figure out a way to turn that $8 million into an enticing contract offer for Tretter. Between that and a convincing phone call from “The GOAT“, that should be enough to get the Bucs back on the road to the Super Bowl with another solid center.
Losing Ryan Jensen would be devastating. He’s one of my favorite players on this team and I love the way he plays the game. But if the Bucs could end up with Tretter as his “replacement“, then it would make the loss of Jensen much easier to handle for Bucs fans. Let’s just hope for the best with Jensen and go from there.
Until then, as always… GO BUCS!!!