New Details Emerge From $39 Million Bucs Starter’s Return

Tom Brady

Getty Tom Brady took snaps from center Ryan Jensen, who healed months faster that doctors anticipated.

Despite the severity of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen‘s knee injury in 2022, it behooved him to avoid surgery at the advice of two doctors.

The Athletic’s Dan Pompei wrote an in-depth story on how Doctors Chad Prodromos, based in Chicago, and Don Shelbourne, based in Indianapolis, helped Jensen get back on the field in less than six months after an extensive knee injury. Jensen played 82 offensive snaps in the Bucs’ season-ending Wild Card game loss against the Dallas Cowboys on January 16. A 2021 Pro Bowler with a 3-year, $39-million contract with the Bucs, per Spotrac, Jensen’s absence left a major void all season for the Bucs, and his return energized the Bucs despite the loss.

His knee injury at training camp in July 2022 caused extensive damage, which Bucs team trainer Bobby Slater recounted for Pompei. It left significant doubt that Jensen, a key part of the Bucs offense, would play at all in 2022, and it threatened Jensen’s career, Pompei wrote.

“We can’t really tell about your ACL. It’s torn, but we’re not sure if it’s totally torn. Your PCL is torn. Your MCL is torn all the way through. Your lateral meniscus has a bucket handle tear, and it’s flipped into the back nodule of your joint. You have a tibial head fracture and a cartilage fracture in your knee. So there are six major injuries,” Slater recounts telling Jensen after the injury via Pompei.

Jensen’s agent, Mike McCartney, referred him to Prodromos, who previously worked with the New England Patriots, and Prodromos recommended that Jensen opt for stem cell treatment instead of surgery, according to Pompei. Prodromos performed surgeries for 38 years but switched to “regenerative medicine and stem cell treatment”, Pompei wrote.

“Ryan’s treatment protocol combining regenerative medicine — stem cell treatment in this case — with traditional care is a model of how this combined approach can provide outcomes that may be better than each technique alone,” Prodromos said via Pompei.

Shelbourne, at referral of Prodromos, treated Jensen “with immobilization and therapy”, Pompei wrote. Jensen wore a cast for nine days, and “tests showed the joint was nearly 60% more stable”, Pompei noted.

Jensen’s final stage of treatment consisted of being “injected with 150 stem cells taken from umbilical cords donated from term Cesarean section births” in Antigua, in November 2022, Pompei wrote.

Jensen received a designation to return from injured reserve in December 2022, which allowed him to practice again but not suit up. The Bucs officially activated Jensen the morning of the Cowboys game.

Jensen Considered Retirement

While Jensen sat in an Indianapolis hotel room with a cast on his leg for nine days, he “pondered” retirement, Pompei noted, but it came to a head. Jensen, who had a full-guaranteed $23 million on his contract with a $5 million injury payout upon retirement, per Pompei, recounted how re-watching his NFL Draft night during the hotel stay affected him.

“To quit would be disrespectful to that kid from 10 years ago who was so excited to be drafted,” Jensen told Pompei. “It would be disrespectful to everything my parents sacrificed to get me to that point. It would be disrespectful to my kids, who I tell to finish everything they start. It is the easy way out, but it would be disrespectful to everything I stand for.”

It reached the point of Jensen deciding to play in the 2022 playoffs despite Prodromos and Shelbourne both not recommending it, according to Pompei. The doctors also anticipated that Jensen would be ready until the fall of 2023, Pompei noted.

Jensen Could Impact Bucs in 2023

As Jensen remains under contract for the Bucs, he could carry momentum into 2023 for the team though his recent return didn’t amount to a playoff win. Tom Brady, 45, who retired from the Bucs on Wednesday, expressed to Pompei how much Jensen’s return impacted the team going forward.

“I love Ryan and his determination to come back,” Brady told Pompei. “It was a huge mental boost for our team to see him working as hard as he did to get back on the field to play with his teammates. … It was a significant injury that he overcame, and I’m so happy he was able to come back for the playoff game. Although the outcome wasn’t great for our team, there was much to be gained from the experience for us all. Ryan showed what he’s all about and his commitment to the team. That’s what champions do.”

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