1. Bucs

Bucs reach agreement with Ravens free agent Ryan Jensen to make him one of the NFL’s top paid centers

The Bucs have signed Jensen to a four-year, $44-million contract with $22-million guaranteed and won a battle over the Colts for the Ravens free agent
Ravens center Ryan Jensen warms up before a game against the Bears on Oct. 15, 2017, in Baltimore. [Associated Press]
Ravens center Ryan Jensen warms up before a game against the Bears on Oct. 15, 2017, in Baltimore. [Associated Press]
Published Mar. 17, 2018
Updated Mar. 17, 2018

To understand why the Bucs went so hard after Ravens free agent center Ryan Jensen, you just have to see to what extent he went to protect his quarterback last season.

After Joe Flacco took a late hit from the Dolphins' Kiko Alonso in a game last year, Jensen went after the unsuspecting linebacker, shoving him down and then driving him into the ground for good measure.

Frankly, it's the kind of attitude the Bucs were lacking at many positions last season. Jensen, it turns out, is as tough, passionate and hot-headed as his fiery red hair might indicate.

On Friday, the Bucs agreed to terms with Jensen on a four-year, $42-million contract with $22-million guaranteed. Jensen chose Tampa Bay after visiting the Bucs and the Indianapolis Colts.

In making Jensen one of the highest-paid centers in the NFL, the Bucs are expected to move Ali Marpet back to guard after only one season of snapping the football to Jameis Winston.

Jensen, 26, was a sixth-round pick from Colorado by the Ravens in 2013. He started only nine games in three seasons before emerging as the starting center last season.

Marpet switched from right guard to center last season with mixed results. While he showed great promise, the Bucs ground attack was ranked 27th in the NFL, averaging 90.6 yards rushing per game.

Bucs left guard Kevin Pamphile is an unrestricted free agent. But for the time being, the offensive line would consist of left tackle Donovan Smith, Marpet at left guard, Jensen at center, J.R. Sweezy at right guard and Demar Dotson at right tackle.

General manager Jason Licht obviously believed the Bucs needed tougher-minded, more aggressive players in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

Certainly, a theme emerged with the Bucs signing players who were either drafted in the late rounds or not entered the NFL as undrafted free agents.

The Bucs began free agency by signing Eagles defensive tackle Beau Allen, a seventh-round pick from Wisconsin in 2014 who developed into one of the league's best run stoppers. It continued when they signed Bears free agent defensive tackle Mitch Unrein, who will be playing for his fifth team since entering the league with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent from Wyoming in 2011.

Both Allen and Unrein are considered the league's most efficient run stoppers by Pro Football Focus.

Some of the stories surrounding Jensen are legendary. He was a scrapper since the first day he set foot in training camp with the Ravens, getting into a fight with Pro Bowl nose tackle Haloti Ngata.

By far, Jensen was the biggest target of free agency for the Bucs. He visited the team on Thursday night but kept his commitment to also meet with the Indianapolis Colts on Friday. However, the Colts reportedly wanted Jensen to play guard whereas the Bucs were willing to move Marpet back to his original position and play Jensen at center.

Bucs quarterbacks were sacked 40 times last season, which tied with the Bengals for 19th in the NFL.