Updated 5:45 p.m. ET, Sunday, July 29
The Buccaneers rewarded OLT Donald Penn with a long-term contract when he was a restricted free agent in the summer of 2010.
After he boycotted offseason workouts that year to show his frustration during a contract dispute, the Bucs signed him to a six-year, $41.7 million contract in late July, and he responded by having the best season of his career. He made the Pro Bowl, but his performance declined in 2011 — Penn allowed a career-high nine sacks after giving up 5½ during his Pro Bowl 2010 season, according to STATS, LLC.
As the protector of QB Josh Freeman’s blind side, the Bucs are going to need Penn to play better than he did down the stretch last season. Given his disappointing showing late last season and the structure of his contract, which reportedly included guaranteed base salaries in Years 1-3 only, this figures to be a pivotal season for the seventh-year veteran.
Having free-agent addition Carl Nicks next to him should help him bounce back. The Bucs made Nicks, an All-Pro left guard, the highest-paid guard in the league this offseason.
Penn will have to handle the issue of conditioning on his own, though.
He has struggled to keep his weight under control for much of his career, including the 2011 campaign, and team sources have expressed frustration with his tendency to let his weight balloon during the season. There are weight-clause incentives in Penn’s contract and he reportedly wore a rubber shirt in practice at times last season in an effort to drop some pounds before weighing in.
His commitment to staying in shape will be tested right off the bat in 2012, as Penn was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list at the outset of training camp. Penn is expected to be sidelined for at least a couple weeks with a strained calf muscle he suffered while working out in Los Angeles, per reports.
A discipline-oriented coaching staff led by Greg Schiano expects players to maintain good conditioning throughout the year and Schiano believes managing body weight also needs to be a priority for his players. The Bucs are likely to grow extremely disenchanted with Penn if poor conditioning continues to be a problem.