Ryan Jensen injury: How will the Tampa Bay Buccaneers move forward without their starting center?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are bracing for the worst after veteran center Ryan Jensen suffered what is believed to be a serious injury at Thursday's practice.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were dealt a devastating blow during the first week of training camp, as center Ryan Jensen suffered what is believed to be a major knee injury, sources tell Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network. The Bucs will conduct further exams to confirm Jensen’s medical outlook, but the team appears to be bracing for the worst.

Buccaneers C Ryan Jensen suffers serious knee injury

Jensen injured his left leg during Thursday’s practice session, and the situation immediately looked serious. The veteran center slammed his helmet to the ground, and the entire Tampa Bay squad gathered around him before he was carted to the locker room.

Jensen, who spent the first four years of his career with the Ravens before joining the Buccaneers in 2018, is the definition of an NFL iron man. He hasn’t missed a single game — and has barely been off the field for a snap — since becoming a full-time player in 2017.

That level of availability, along with Jensen’s standout production, is why Tampa Bay made the 31-year-old a priority when the free agent market opened earlier this year. Jensen was linked to the Bengals, Jaguars, and Jets before he officially became a free agent. Yet, he re-signed with the Buccaneers on a three-year, $39 million deal just hours after Tom Brady announced he was ending his retirement.

Tampa is already dealing with offensive line turnover, so Jensen’s stabilizing presence was set to be critical. The Buccaneers are integrating trade acquisition Shaq Mason at right guard and trying to find a successor to Ali Marpet at left guard. Aaron Stinnie, who’s been with the Bucs since 2019, is the leading contender to fill Marpet’s role, but 2021 third-round pick Robert Hainsey and rookie second-rounder Luke Goedeke are also in contention.

How Tampa Bay can replace Jensen

Hainsey stepped in for Jensen when he went down in practice, indicating the 23-year-old is next in line at center. A top-ranked high school recruit before he attended Notre Dame, Hainsey was viewed as a solid run-blocking prospect when he entered the 2021 NFL Draft. In his rookie campaign with the Buccaneers, he appeared in nine games, but he played more snaps on special teams (35) than on offense (31).

Hainsey will get the first crack to replace Jensen, and Goedeke can play center too. But if Brady wants a more experienced center snapping him the ball, Tampa could look to the free agent or trade markets.

JC Tretter is the best free agent center available, and he’d make sense for a veteran-laden Buccaneers roster. He has the veteran experience required to transition to a new offense seamlessly, and he’d be able to adapt to his surroundings quickly. Like Jensen, Tretter is always available — he’s missed one game since 2017, and that was due to COVID. Other free agent centers that could get a look from Tampa Bay include Trey Hopkins, Matt Paradis, and Billy Price.

If the Bucs are willing to make a trade, other options should be available. Graham Glasgow is competing for a starting guard role with the Broncos, but he’s spent plenty of time at center. After reworking his contract earlier this year, he’s only due a $3.1 million base salary.

Elsewhere, the Dolphins’ Michael Deiter is out of a job after Miami signed Connor Williams to play center, but Tampa may not view Deiter as an improvement over Hainsey.

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