I’m going to go out on a limb and say I don’t think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers thought when they released Donald Penn following the 2013 season that they would be facing him in this third season with another team. And they certainly didn’t think he’d still be playing at a high level at the age of 33.
If they had any inclination, they wouldn’t have released him when they did.
Penn was coming off a season in which the former Pro Bowler gave the second most sacks in the league (12). The Bucs decided with the 31-year-old left tackle set to earn $6.75 million in 2014, they would seek a younger 'upgrade'. So, they went out and signed former Bengals free agent tackle, Anthony Collins. Once they had Collins in place, they cut ties with Penn.
It wasn’t long before they realized the problem was not Penn. They had a lot of other issues with the line and the quarterback that proved to be the real issue. And their inability to properly diagnose that problem dropped Penn right into the Raiders laps, who were at the time desperate to find a left tackle to replace Jared Veldheer who they allowed to leave as a free agent.
The Raiders also soon realized that Penn was still capable of playing at a high level and has continued that play at that level this season.
“I have a lot more football in me,” Penn said Thursday. “I can probably play 5-6 more years if I want to. . . Right now with the way things are going, this winning it feels good, it feels fun, you never know. I might still be out here a little longer. As long as Reggie’s gonna keep me.”
Coming off a 33-16 victory in Jacksonville last week, the Raiders stayed in Florida through the week. Penn has been near his old stomping grounds where he spent the first seven years of his NFL career. That tour will continue Sunday when he faces his former team for the first time.
“It feels good to be back out here,” said Penn. “Got to see a couple of old friends, old teammates, old guys. Gonna be kinda weird. I’ve never walked into Raymond James stadium on the visitor’s side, so that’s gonna be something new. But looking forward to seeing some of the old guys that still play on the team. I’m just trying to go in there and come out with a win.”
Last week was a similar situation for Jack Del Rio who was in the city to face the team with which he was the head coach for nine seasons. If there was some emotion involved in that for him leading up to the game, he wasn’t letting on.
As a head coach, it’s probably best to try and downplay it. But Penn has no need or desire to act like there isn’t any extra motivation to stick it to the team that gave up on him in the middle of a 6-year deal.
“Oh, it’s huge,” Penn said of the chip on his shoulder. “I’m not gonna sit here and sugarcoat it. It’s very huge, I’m a straightforward guy. That’s definitely in my mind. That’s something I’m never gonna forget, getting released a couple years ago. Good thing is I’m happy where I’m at right now.”
There’s no doubt Penn is happy with his place in the league right now. He has never missed a game and is the starting left tackle on a 5-2 team for the first time since his 2010 Pro Bowl season. And in the midst of all that, he gets a chance to stick it to the team that left him for dead a few years back?
Now he and the Raiders just have to ensure they finish it off with a win.