Ryan Jensen didn’t play during the 2022 regular season after suffering a severe knee injury during training camp, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers center did return for the club’s playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Jensen won’t make any such comeback for the Buccaneers in 2023, and he may never appear in the NFL again.
On Saturday, Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht told the Bucs’ preseason broadcast that those same knee issues will force Jensen to the injured reserve, meaning he won’t play this season. NFL Network reported Jensen’s injury is so severe that he may have played his last down in the NFL.
What the Loss of Ryan Jensen Means for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jensen tore his ACL, MCL, PCL, and meniscus and fractured his tibial head and cartilage in July 2022. He declined surgery, opted for treatment, and returned to the field in six months.
While Jensen passed his physical at the outset of this year’s training camp, he hasn’t participated in practice sessions or played in preseason games. He appeared likely to begin the year on IR, but Tampa Bay’s decision to send him to the injured list before cutdown day makes him ineligible to play in 2023.
Injured players have to be carried onto a team’s initial 53-man roster before being on IR — otherwise, they aren’t allowed to be designated for a return later in the year.
“Ryan (is) arguably one of the best linemen in franchise history, one of the best free agent signings we’ve had,” Licht said Friday. “It’s gonna be hard to replicate or clone him. We can only hope to come close.”
Although Jensen won’t play for the Bucs this year, he plans to be around the club and support the roster in other ways.
“He’s gonna be with us all year,” Licht said. “He’s very excited about this team. He wants to help with the O-line. He’s taken a particular interest in (second-round rookie guard) Cody Mauch.”
This was the full response from #Bucs GM Jason Licht about putting C Ryan Jensen on injured reserve and that he’ll be out for the season.
— Matt Matera (@matty4_matera) August 27, 2023
Jensen, 32, entered the NFL as a Baltimore Ravens sixth-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He signed a four-year, $42 million contract to join the Buccaneers in 2018, then inked a three-year, $39 million extension during the 2022 offseason.
Jensen spoke to reporters after Saturday’s game and suggested his career may not be over.
“Unfortunately, my knee wasn’t progressing in an upward, positive way,” Jensen said. “I fought my butt off. I put more work in this offseason than I’ve done probably in my entire career. It just wasn’t responding how it needed to respond.
“Surgery, for what’s going on in the knee, probably wouldn’t help. It’d probably actually deter it and make it worse. I’m going to fight and do whatever I can do to get this knee healthy.”
Jensen also said returning for the playoffs in January did not aggravate his knee injury. The Buccaneers conducted medical imaging on his knee before and after the game and found only minor swelling and no further damage.
How Will the Buccaneers Replace Jensen?
Tampa Bay’s offensive line was already facing significant turnover even before the news about Jensen’s injury surfaced on Friday.
Tristan Wirfs, one of the league’s best right tackles, is moving to the left side to replace Donovan Smith, whom the Buccaneers released in the spring. A first-round pick in the 2020 draft who earned first-team All-Pro honors during his rookie campaign, Wirfs said he sought help from Tampa Bay’s team psychologist after experiencing anxiety over his shift to left tackle.
Luke Goedeke, the Bucs’ second-round choice in last year’s draft, is moving to right tackle after spending 457 of his 523 snaps at left guard during his rookie season. Goedeke was an All-MAC right tackle at Central Michigan, but his only RT experience in the NFL came in Week 18 of last season.
Mauch is scheduled to take over at right guard for Shaq Mason, whom Tampa Bay dealt to the Houston Texans over the offseason.
Veteran Matt Feiler, who offers positional flexibility up front, is slated to play left guard after his underwhelming 2022 performance led to his release by the Los Angeles Chargers.
Although they’ll be without Jensen in 2023, the Buccaneers will have a familiar face at center. Robert Hainsey started all 17 games for Tampa Bay last season after Jensen went down and projects to do so again this season.
Hainsey, who might’ve competed for a starting guard job had Jensen been healthy this summer, ranked 10th in pass blocking and 26th in run blocking last year, per PFF.