Welcome back to Bucs Report’s “Make-Or-Break” series!

We are going to highlight the players heading into their final contract year and discuss what they need to do on the field in 2021 in order to obtain another contract with the Bucs. One prerequisite that must be checked off in order to qualify: The profiled player(s) have to be in the final year of a multi-year deal. Players who signed one-year deals in 2021 will not be considered.

Ryan Jensen and the Buccaneers so far…

Tampa Bay gave Jensen a four-year, $42 million contract back in 2018, which made him the league’s highest-paid center at the time. Options were slim at the position due to injuries and Joe Hawley’s retirement. Just put it this way: Ali Marpet started 11 games at center in 2017.

Marpet is a capable center, but he’s a much better fit at guard, obviously. The Bucs needed someone to come in and help solidify the interior of the offensive line, so they went out and snagged Jensen.

It’s safe to say this relationship didn’t get off to a very good start. Per Pro Football Focus, 2018 saw Jensen record -at the time- career-highs in penalties (11), quarterback hits out of true pass sets (6), and total pressures allowed out of true pass sets (17). It was the penalties that really hurt Jensen and the Bucs, though. Per PFF, he was seventh among all offensive linemen and first among all centers during the regular season. Per the NFL’s GSIS logs, six drives were stalled out due to his penalties. It was not only a team-high, but it tied for the fourth-most stalled drives by any player in the NFL.

Things changed dramatically in 2019. In fact, it’s probably the best year of Jensen’s career. And I mean his entire career, not just his career as a Buc.

The penalties nearly vanished. Jensen committed just three all year long, which is the second-lowest amount during his six years in the league. Per PFF, he set career-highs in  his overall blocking grade, pass blocking grade, and run blocking grade. His total pressures out of true pass sets dropped from 17 to nine, which tied for the seventh-fewest amount among all centers with at least 500 pass blocking snaps.

Jensen continued to establish himself as one of the league’s best -if not the best- centers in 2020. The numbers don’t reflect this sentiment, but the tape does. Jensen’s tenacity, athleticism, and overall ability to play the position can be seen on nearly every snap he takes.

What does he need to do in 2021 in order to get that second contract?

Jensen is an absolute mauler on the ground. He is excellent in space, but is also powerful enough for the Bucs’ gap scheme. He can do it all.

Ryan Jensen (No. 66) takes out both Deadrin Senat (No. 94) and LB Mykal Walker (No. 43) on this play.

However, his pass blocking regressed in 2020. Per PFF, he set career-highs in sacks allowed (4) and total pressures allowed out of true pass sets (20), while finishing with a career-worst pass blocking grade (47.7) during the regular season. His pass blocking grade of 31.7 while in true pass sets ranked 44 out of 52 eligible centers.

But the Bucs asked a lot of Jensen in 2020. He was often responsible for picking up the inside loopers on stunts and was even asked to pull during pass pro at times. This is not an excuse for the uptick in allowed sacks and pressures, but it is context that needs to be provided.

But still, he has to work on the pass pro element of his game. If he can bounce back from a down year, then the odds of a return are definitely in his favor.

How are his prospects shaping up for 2022?

The seventh-year center is well-respected across the league, even if he didn’t receive a single All-Pro vote. At this point, there is little doubt Tampa Bay will have to outbid other teams if Jensen hits the market.

He’ll also be 31-years-old when the 2022 season starts, so he certainly has a few good years left in him. The 10 highest-paid centers make around $10.8 million AAV. Jensen is going to make good money no matter where he lands.

Final Prediction

There’s a reason we saved Jensen for last. He’s by far and away the toughest to predict in terms of a return in 2022.

It feels like he may be a victim of circumstance, more than anything. The 2021 draft is very deep on the offensive line and has 4-5 feasible choices that could be available for the Bucs. One of those guys could be Jensen’s eventual replacement if he and the Bucs can’t agree on a new deal.

It has nothing to do with Jensen’s play on the field. He will require a top-end salary when it’s all said and done; and the Bucs simply may not be able to afford him. Especially when you consider younger players like Alex Cappa, Ronald Jones II, Carlton Davis, Jordan Whitehead, and others are up for their second contracts with the team. Tampa Bay could easily decide to invest in the younger guys as opposed to paying a proven veteran like Jensen. This strategy is often a risky one, but it’s just how the NFL has the system set up.

But, man. It’s also tough to envision leaving any questions on the offensive line. Because, you know, of that guy named Tom Brady.

Regardless, as of now, it just doesn’t look like Jensen and the Bucs Chapter Two will happen after this year. It pains me to write this, but if I were a betting man, I’d say he plays elsewhere in 2022.