G Kevin Dogins has played well in an expanded role in recent seasons
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signed guard/center Kevin Dogins to a one-year contract on Friday. Dogins thus became the fourth restricted free agent to re-sign with the Bucs in the month of May, following G Frank Middleton on the fifth, QB Scott Milanovich on the eighth and S Damien Robinson on the 15th.
Three unsigned restricted free agents remain for Tampa Bay: CB Ronde Barber, TE Patrick Hape and CB Floyd Young. All are currently participating in the team's voluntary summer workouts after signing waivers, and all are expected to return. In fact, since none of the Bucs' seven restricted free agents signed with another team before April 10, they may now negotiate only with Tampa Bay. Dogins, Middleton, Milanovich and Robinson all accepted the one-year tender offers that were made to the team at the beginning of the free agency period in February.
Players become restricted free agents in the National Football League when their contracts expire and they have accrued three years of NFL experience. Players who have accrued four years of NFL experience, as these seven likely will have done by the next offseason, become unrestricted free agents when their contracts expire.
Dogins' official return continues an appealing success story. After performing well (three-time all-conference pick) at small but competitive Texas A&M-Kingsville, Dogins was not drafted in 1996 but did sign with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent. He was waived by the Cowboys in August, however, but had to wait only eight days before being signed to the Bucs' practice squad. He has remained with Tampa Bay ever since, gradually expanding his role.
In '96, he spent the first 15 weeks of the season on the practice squad but gained a promotion to the active roster for the final week after Jim Pyne sustained a broken leg. Dogins even saw his first NFL action in that game, subbing in at center near the end of the contest.
In '97, he quietly impressed the Bucs' coaching staff in his first training camp with the team and earned a roster spot, joining fellow Texas A&M-Kingsville products Karl Williams, Jorge Diaz and Floyd Young. He served as a backup to center Tony Mayberry but did not see any game action besides a few snaps in the team's playoff game at Green Bay.
Though he spent much of the 1997 season on the inactive list each weekend, Dogins filled a more prominent substitute role in '98, partly because he demonstrated that he could play guard as well as center. In fact, after subbing in two games midway through the season, he claimed his first start on Monday Night Football in December after Diaz, the usual starting left guard, had suffered a broken foot. Dogins started the last four games of the season, helping the Bucs win three times and average 155.5 rushing yards per game.
That experience and another strong camp put Dogins in position to crack the starting lineup on merit in 1999, which he did in December, replacing Diaz at left guard for the last five games. Dogins' promotion coincided with Shaun King's elevation to starting quarterback, and the two helped Tampa Bay win four of its last five regular season games and finish with a team-record 11 victories. King was impressive in his first action as a starter, at least in part because the Buccaneer offensive line allowed just two sacks per contest during that span.
The Buccaneer offensive line has been overhauled during the 2000 season, with Pro Bowlers Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel signed and inserted into the starting lineup and Diaz released and moving on to the Dallas Cowboys. In addition, the return of Paul Gruber remains undecided, meaning Jason Odom has shifted to the left tackle spot with Jerry Wunsch playing on the right side. Dogins hopes to provide a little continuity by remaining one of the unit's consistent performers, and he will have that opportunity after re-signing with the team on Friday.