TAMPA — It took a determined man with fierce faith and anvil jaw to walk into an NFL training camp as an undrafted free agent, having played only one year of football in his life, and despite being 6 feet 9, 315 pounds convert from defensive line to offensive tackle.
"Everything I have in life I've worked for," said Dotson, a basketball player until his fifth year at Southern Miss. "I came in here as a rookie and didn't even have a pair of shoes, a pair of cleats to come out here. I had to work myself up. I think that's just what God made me, a guy that always has to stay humble. Maybe if I get things too easy, I don't stay humble. I think just having things come hard keeps me on my knees and keeps me grateful."
The Bucs on Monday showed their gratitude, locking up Dotson, their longest tenured player, by signing him to a three-year extension through 2019. Dotson, 30, was in the final year of a contract that would've paid him $1.75 million in 2016. Terms were not released.
The contract reportedly includes $8.5 million guaranteed, including a $4.25 million signing bonus. The Bucs can exercise their option to get out of the deal at the end of 2017, and/or again after 2018, unless they pay Dotson a roster bonus. It would allow them to recoup compensatory picks should Dotson become a free agent.
"As you guys know, he's one of the good guys, one of the great guys in the organization," general manager Jason Licht said.
"He's been a cornerstone player for us and our extensions that we've done here recently with Gerald (McCoy), Lavonte (David) and Doug (Martin), these guys all have one thing in common. They work their (tails) off and are very consistent players, very good players in the league, and you know what you're getting out of them every day on the playing field, on the practice field."
Dotson has appeared in 72 games with 52 starts for Tampa Bay. A year ago, he sought a new contract and held out of organized team activities. But all those plans were erased when he suffered a knee injury in the preseason, missing the first 10 games.
Dotson reclaimed his starting job from Gosder Cherilus before the end of the season, and coach Dirk Koetter called him the team's best offensive lineman early in training camp.
"I don't know if I would call it a dark, scary place, but I was pressing for this contract and I knew I wasn't going to get it right now," Dotson said. "So it was a little disheartening at the end of the day. But I was eager to get back and work. So when I got hurt, I knew I wasn't going to get (a new contract), so I got it out of my mind, so it just allowed me to focus on my rehab so I could get back and prove that I'm worthy of this contract."
To put it mildly, Dotson didn't have a signature play during his one season at Southern Miss. But his work ethic and potential prompted Dom Green, a scout with the Chiefs who worked for the Bucs from 2006-08, to convince then-Tampa Bay college scouting director Dennis Hickey to sign Dotson as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
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Dotson showed enough promise to earn a spot on the practice squad, then the active roster for the final nine games. In 2010, Dotson tore a knee ligament and spent the year on injured reserve. An injury to right tackle Jeremy Trueblood gave Dotson a chance to start.
Dotson, who turns 31 in October, said his late start in football probably preserved his body.
"Even though I'm not getting younger, I'm not feeling old," Dotson said. "I think I can move just as good as a 22-year-old, I can do whatever anybody else coming in here can do. I didn't play a lot of football growing up. So even though I get older in age, I don't think my body is to that point where I wake up in the morning and feel like I'm almost 31 years old. I feel like I'm 25 years old."