Steelers Interested in ‘Nasty,’ Tone-Setting Free Agent Center: Report

Center Ryan Jensen

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images Ryan Jensen of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepares to snap the ball to quarterback Tom Brady on September 20, 2020.

The Steelers have several decisions to make as they continue to rebuild their offensive line, a process that began apace last year when the team selected two linemen in the first four rounds of the draft. One of those decisions is whether to try moving 2021 third-round pick Kendrick Green from center to guard. Green struggled at center as a rookie; in fact, near the end of last season, Ben Roethlisberger suggested that Green might be a better fit at guard, and the organization might be inclined to agree.

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Tampa Bay Center Ryan Jensen Offers Physicality, Leadership

If that’s the case, the Steelers are likely to look to free agency to address the center position. According to a March 6 report from ESPN NFL Insider Dan Graziano, unrestricted free agent Ryan Jensen “has the attention of” the Steelers, who would not only benefit from Jensen’s play, but the leadership he could provide to a young line that is likely to continue to include left tackle Dan Moore Jr. and left guard Kevin Dotson, who are entering their second and third seasons, respectively.

The challenge is that at least several other teams are interested in Jensen, according to Graziano, including the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens, the latter being the outfit that drafted him in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

“So many teams are looking for offensive line help, and Jensen is viewed as a nasty tone-setter who could help a line with his attitude and ability,” writes Graziano. “If multiple teams are as interested as it sounds they could be, Jensen could be a hot commodity and rake in a nice payday.”

There’s also the distinct possibility that Jensen might prefer to remain with his current team.

“I’m told the Bucs will try hard to get something done with Jensen,” said ESPN NFL insider Jeremy Fowler as part of the same above-referenced report. “They feel he’s among the best centers in the league, maybe the best, when in their system. If that costs $15 million per year—which it very well might—then that might be worth it.”

Jensen, 30, just completed the four-year, $42 million contract he signed with the Buccaneers in 2018, which paid him a salary of $9.25 million in 2021 and $10 million in each of the two seasons prior to that. That contract came after the Ravens developed him into a starter; Jensen made a total of nine starts during his first three seasons in Baltimore, then started all 16 games in 2017.

3 Steelers Offensive Linemen Are Unrestricted Free Agents

Historically speaking, the Steelers have used free agency to address the center position while they look for a long-term answer in the draft. In 2001, the organization signed Jeff Hartings in free agency, who went on to play center for them for six seasons until he retired following the 2006 campaign.

On the other hand, the Steelers may not want to give up on Green just yet, who is barely 23 years old and plays a position where rookies rarely excel.

Regardless, new offensive line coach Pat Meyer has plenty of work to do as he tries to mold a line that finished 31st in team pass block win rate and 30th in run block win rate in 2021, this according to Brooke Pryor, who covers the Steelers for ESPN.

It’s also worth noting that three of last year’s offensive linemen are among the 17 Steelers players who are unrestricted free agents. That includes starting right tackle Chuks Okorafor and last year’s starting right guard Trai Turner, not to mention reserve interior offensive lineman B.J. Finney.

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