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Tom Brady’s phone call icing on cake for Bucs center Ryan Jensen

Question now is, how many other Bucs free agents remain aboard to play with Brady?
Center Ryan Jensen, right, is more than happy to stay with the Bucs, who helped him evolve into a Pro Bowler.
Center Ryan Jensen, right, is more than happy to stay with the Bucs, who helped him evolve into a Pro Bowler. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Mar. 15|Updated Mar. 15

TAMPA — His Sunday fluctuated between celebratory, stressful and surreal. Ryan Jensen was presiding over his daughter’s birthday party and monitoring his negotiations with the Bucs when his quarterback delivered a seismic audible via phone call.

Tom Brady’s message to his veteran center: Hey, let’s run it back. I’m coming back.

“At that point I was pretty much already committed to coming back to Tampa,” said Jensen, who agreed to terms on a three-year, $39 million deal Sunday to remain a Buccaneer. “And obviously that’s the sugar on top.”

Such is the aura of Brady, whose very presence seems to have sweetened the chances of the Bucs keeping much of their 2020-2021 nucleus intact. Though Jensen insisted Tuesday that he hoped to end his career in Tampa, the fact his deal was announced shortly after Brady’s call hardly seems coincidental.

Additionally, cornerback Carlton Davis — who once seemed destined to depart as a coveted free agent — agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the Bucs the day after Brady’s bombshell. Meantime, a fan base waits to see whether other prominent Bucs free agents (see Gronkowski, Rob) remain aboard, or whether guard Ali Marpet has second thoughts about his recent retirement.

“I think talking with Ali, he’s excited to take the next step in his life, life after football,” Jensen said.

Then again, as Jensen indicated, few football figures this side of Nick Saban recruit as effectively as Brady.

“Talking with Tom, it was just like, ‘Hey, let’s try to get the band back together and go out and try to win football games and play football the right way,’” Jensen said. “Obviously, Tom coming back, that could sway some decisions of some guys that are in free agency or looking to sign back.”

In Jensen’s case, though, Sunday’s fateful call simply validated his desire to remain with the organization that originally signed him in 2018, and helped him evolve into a Pro Bowler.

A sixth-round pick from a Division II program (Colorado State Pueblo) and full-time starter only one season (with the Ravens in 2017) before his arrival, Jensen has started all 71 games over the last four years, playing through a couple of ankle issues late in the 2022 season.

“After I signed that contract in ‘18 to come here (a four-year, $42 million deal), that first season I definitely didn’t play up to expectation, I didn’t play up to that contract,” said Jensen, who turns 31 in May.

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“It was kind of a reality check for me. So going into that next year, I went back to that kind of chip on my shoulder, and that I-haven’t-made-it type of mentality. I think that’s the way I’ve always played my career, except for maybe that first year I was in Tampa, and my play kind of showed.

“For me it’s just keep doing what got you to that point, because there’s obviously something you were doing that made you the football player that you are.”

By retaining Jensen, and picking up guard Shaq Mason from the Patriots, the Bucs have helped mitigate losses on the line after Marpet’s retirement and free agent Alex Cappa’s departure to Cincinnati.

Recent signee Aaron Stinnie flourished in the last three postseason games of 2020 after Cappa fractured his ankle, and Jensen on Tuesday praised the football IQ of 2021 third-round draft pick Robert Hainsey, who has trained at center and guard since his arrival.

“I have zero doubt that we’re going to have another top-five, top-tier offensive line this coming year,” he said.

“Stinnie, obviously in the Super Bowl run, he stepped in and there was little to no drop-off when he stepped in and when Alex got hurt. Obviously losing Cappa too, great young football player who’s just getting better year-in and year-out, but I’m happy for him first and foremost. ... I’m sure we’ll be back to firing at full cylinders relatively quickly.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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