TAMPA — The most important player for the Bucs is franchise quarterback Josh Freeman. That means the second-most valuable player might be left tackle Donald Penn, who is paid to protect Freeman's blind side.
You don't need Sandra Bullock to explain that one to you.
The Bucs might have all the confidence in the world in Demar Dotson, the converted basketball player from Southern Miss with no NFL starts who is taking reps at left tackle while Penn stays away hoping for a long-term deal.
But that doesn't mean they want to risk Freeman's career on Dotson.
Penn is skipping the team's mandatory minicamp, which starts Monday. Contract demands aside, he has reason to be disappointed.
Two weeks ago, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik took the proactive step of informing Penn and his agent, Rocky Arceneaux, the team planned to exercise its option to reduce Penn's tender to 110 percent of his 2009 salary — a reduction of roughly $100,000. Nothing unusual about that.
Dominik also made those plans public by announcing them during an impromptu media gathering. But he went further, indicating Penn would be fined if he failed to sign the tender and skipped the mandatory minicamp or held out of training camp.
It sounded good, except Dominik knew it wasn't true. You can't fine a player who isn't under contract.
Dominik was either rattling a saber or counting on Arceneaux being unaware of the rules. In either case, it didn't go over well in the Penn camp. Neither did comments Dominik made during a fan question-and-answer session about Penn gaining 40 pounds last season.
"When you think about a left tackle and how important that position is, especially to a young franchise quarterback, and that guy during the season gains 40 pounds and basically turns his back to nutrition and keeping himself in shape, that's disappointing to me; rightfully so," said Dominik, who has since apologized.
"And I expected better from him. When you look at the film, he continued to (regress). This has nothing to do with money from the organization. This has nothing to do with the Glazers and their financial situation. This is strictly for him to show what he is as a football player."
Penn did gain weight during the second half of 2009. He has since lost about 35 pounds, and Dominik has applauded him for it.
The problem for the Bucs is a holdout could sabotage much of the season. At best, it will be a daily distraction.
Penn believed he had an agreement on a contract extension in 2008 with then-general manager Bruce Allen. And again in 2009 with Dominik. Both deals fell apart because (depending on which side you believe) the Glazer family nixed the deal or Penn's camp tried to sweeten the pot at the last minute.
Before the $100,000 reduction, Penn refused to sign his $3.168 million tender as a restricted free agent. He's one of about 200 who were denied unrestricted free agency because of the failure of the league and players to reach a new collective bargaining agreement.
Dominik doesn't want to start a stampede of players looking for new deals by signing Penn to an extension. All of the Bucs' other restricted free agents, including linebacker Barrett Ruud and running back Cadillac Williams, signed their tenders.
Nobody put a gun to the heads of those players. They had the right to do precisely what Penn is doing. On the other hand, signing a tender doesn't mean you can't negotiate a long-term deal. But the Bucs have no interest in doing that with Penn or any other player.
That's not unique to the Bucs. There's a growing number of players who believe owners are using 2010 to control their bottom line and reap windfall profits. Large deals are rare in light of a possible lockout of players in 2011.
There are exceptions. The Saints signed 26-year-old guard Jahri Evans to a seven-year, $56.7 million contract, including $19 million in the first year.
Penn has started 44 games and last season held up against Demarcus Ware, Osi Umenyiora, Andre Carter, Julius Peppers, Trent Cole, Clay Matthews, Will Smith and John Abraham. He's the Bucs' best left tackle since Paul Gruber.
Penn must sign by Week 10 or sit out the remainder of the season.
In the meantime, somebody needs to watch Freeman's blind side.