Buccaneers Sign Round 1 C Graham Barton, Conclude Rookie Deals

While Graham Barton technically qualified as part of this draft’s run on first-round tackles, the Duke blocker is shifting to center in Tampa. The Buccaneers have first-string plans for Barton in 2024, and the sides have checked one item off their Year 1 to-do list.

Barton signed his rookie contract Thursday, the Bucs announced. The No. 26 overall pick will be tied to a four-year, fully guaranteed contract that includes a 2028 fifth-year option. The Bucs now have all their 2024 draftees signed.

Tampa Bay fared remarkably well with its last first-round O-line swing, as Tristan Wirfs is now firmly in play to sign an extension that establishes the new benchmark for tackles. The team had not, however, used a first-round pick on an interior blocker since guard Davin Joseph back in 2006. That makes Barton a Jason Licht-era first. Unsurprisingly, the team is likely to plug the Duke prospect into its starting lineup in Week 1.

The Bucs saw their center plan drift off course during training camp in 2022. Re-signed to pair again with an unretired Tom Brady, Ryan Jensen suffered a severe knee injury that kept him off the field for nearly the season’s entirety. While Jensen returned in time for the Bucs’ wild-card game against the Cowboys, he missed all of last season and has since retired.

Tampa Bay used Robert Hainsey as its center for the past two seasons. The former third-round pick displayed durability by going 34-for-34 in starts, but Pro Football Focus graded him 32nd at the position last season. Now in contract year, Hainsey will still have a shot to win the Bucs’ left guard role. But Barton is on track to work as Tampa Bay’s pivot.

Although Barton spent the past three seasons as Duke’s starting left tackle, he played center as a freshman. Teams were eyeing the experienced Blue Devils blocker for an interior role. The Steelers were believed to have shown interest, but they went with tackle Troy Fautanu in Round 1. This left Barton, a first-team All-ACC tackle in 2022 and ’23, for the Bucs. Barton, who also drew All-American acclaim last season, only made five college starts at center. But the Bucs will bank on the first-rounder providing a big upgrade inside.

Jensen started 65 games for the Bucs, operating as the team’s center starter for six years. The Bucs will hope Barton can become a true long-term answer. Here is how Tampa Bay’s draft class breaks down:

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