When the Buccaneers benched left tackle Anthony Collins during the last month of the 2014 season and turned to right tackle Demar Dotson, it was essentially a three-game tryout to see if Dotson could switch to the left side. Fortunately for the Bucs and Dotson, the former basketball player turned underrated NFL tackle passed with flying colors.
Dotson’s play didn’t make anyone confuse him with former Bucs great and Ring of Honor member Paul Gruber, but it did ease the sting of the Collins free agent signing that saw the Buccaneers give the former Bengal a five-year, $30-million deal last March. Collins, who found his way in the coaching staff’s doghouse and was a healthy scratch for Tampa Bay’s final three games, will most likely be released this offseason if a trade partner can’t be found. But with a $6 million base salary and $3 million guaranteed, a trade seems unlikely.
Once again, the Buccaneers need to revamp their offensive line after a season in which Tampa Bay ranked 30th in total offense (292.2 yards per game), 25th in passing (206.1) and 29th in rushing offense (85.9). Maybe even more disturbing was the fact that Buccaneers quarterbacks were sacked 52 times in 2014, tied for third worse in the NFL. With Tampa Bay likely to look quarterback with their first pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, finding a way to protect the passer will be crucial for the Bucs’ success going forward. A young NFL quarterback has enough to think about, and adding the possibility of being sacked or under constant pressure nearly every play from his blind side only clutters a young signal caller’s mind.
The good news for the Buccaneers is, with the play of Dotson at left tackle late in 2014, it eliminates one major need heading into free agency and the draft. Dotson showed enough talent and attitude to give the Bucs front office and coaching staff confidence that they can succeed at that position with the Mississippi native lining up to protect whatever quarterback’s backside is in the lineup in 2015.
Head coach Lovie Smith talked about Dotson following the season.
“Everything is to be determined, but I thought he did a pretty good job there to, in midstream, finish the game, the next day you show up, ‘Hey Demar, guess what? From right you’re going to left.’ ‘Ok coach.’ And that’s pretty much how that happened,” Smith said. “‘You think I can do it?’ ‘Yes, I think you can do it.’ ‘Do you think you can do it Demar?’ ‘Yes, I know I can do it.’ That was a step that we needed to take to see him and again, his better days are ahead of him if we decide to keep him at the left tackle position and as I talk to you right now, I don’t see why not. Nothing has said he can’t do it.”
Dotson himself also believes there is no reason he can be the Bucs left tackle going forward, especially with an entire offseason to practice in a left tackle stance.
“You always hear speculation, outside the building, inside the building that they are going to put you at left tackle, they are going to move you to left tackle – I have been hearing it for years, even since I was playing over there when Penn was out,” Dotson said. “But it never happened, so I was just thought it was hearsay, just talk, but it is just funny how things work. It came back around and here is my opportunity so I just have to make the most of it.”
While it appears the Bucs could go into 2015 with Dotson as the team’s starting left tackle, the question is now at what price? Dotson was a great value at $2 million in 2014 compared to some other right tackles like the 49ers’ Anthony Davis ($7.5 million), the Cowboys’ Doug Free ($6.52 million) and the Jaguars’ Lane Johnson ($4.4 million). And Dotson would be an absolute steal at the left tackle position where he is scheduled to make just $1.5 million in 2015 and $1.75 million in 2016. The franchise tag for left tackles, an average of the top players at that position, is just over $9 million per season.
If the Buccaneers do in fact release Collins, Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht should use the $3 million in cap savings to reward Dotson for his play and work ethic. While Dotson is far from being perfect – as evidenced by his team-leading 14 penalties last season – the undrafted Southern Miss product proved in three games that he is an upgrade over Collins, and most likely better than anyone that will hit the free agent market.
At age 29, Dotson is in his prime and has only been a starter for 46 games and has little wear and tear on his body. And if the Buccaneers do address the quarterback position in the first round, having an experienced veteran like Dotson will make the transition easier for Tampa Bay’s hopeful future star under center.