Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Update: The Buccaneers have added former Browns and Ravens running back Bobby Rainey.
One of the biggest fears has come to fruition for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Martin is hurt.
The Bucs franchise running back suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder during Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons. The extent of how long he will out for is unclear, but he isn’t returning anytime soon.
After the second game of the season, I wrote about the lack of depth the Bucs had at running back and with Martin going down for a long period of time, what options do the Bucs now have at the position?
Already on Roster:
The Bucs currently have Mike James, Brian Leonard and Jeff Demps on the active roster. However, none of them have much experience at being a featured back.
James and Demps got starts at Miami and Florida respectively in college, but neither were the featured back during their collegiate careers. James was credited with starting all 12 games in 2012, but he split time with Duke Johnson, while Demps was in a similar situation as he split time during his four years at Florida.
Brian Leonard has been nothing but a third down back his whole NFL career. His career high in rushing attempts in a season is 86, which came in his rookie season in 2007, and like James and Demps, Leonard wasn’t a featured running back during his time in college with Rutgers.
James spelled Martin well on Sunday, rushing for 45 yards on 13 carries. He also demonstrated his ability to block in passing situations as he showed tremendously on the 59-yard touchdown pass from Mike Glennon to Vincent Jackson. It remains to be seen whether the Bucs will want him carrying the ball 20 plus times a game though.
Demps recently underwent groin surgery and it’s unclear when he will be available again. Leonard hasn’t seen the field much in recent weeks so it’s hard to imagine Greg Schiano giving him numerous carries a game. However, with James and Leonard as the only healthy options on the roster, they may have to share time.
The trade market for backup running backs is almost non-existent, mainly because teams are unwilling to trade away their backup in case their starter goes down.
Very few teams have three good quality running backs, and that is no different this season. A quick glance over the other 31 rosters shows that there isn’t anyone the Bucs could obtain to become their starter without trading away a valuable draft pick. In addition, there have been numerous running back injuries this season, so teams will be selling high if they were even tempted to trade a spare back.
Free Agent Market
This is where the Bucs will find their best options.
The Bucs need a back who will carry the football 20 plus a times a game until Martin returns and the free agent market provides many options.
Cedric Benson and Michael Turner are both still available and both had 1000 yard rushing seasons in 2011. Both players have been in the league a long time and thus have a lot wear and tear on their legs, but both players are accustomed to running the football regularly.
Beanie Wells is also a free agent and he too rushed for over a 1000 yards in 2011. He is also a much younger option than Benson and Turner as he has only been in the league for four years.
If the Bucs want to use a running back by committee approach, Tim Hightower or Montario Hardesty would be good options to get 10-15 carries a game.
The Bucs are in a dilemma here. It’s still unclear as to whether Martin will miss the rest of the season or not, but it’s clear they need a running back to help soften the loss. One of the free agent recommendations would prove to be the Bucs best choice here as they have experience at being an every down back, something the Bucs currently lack on their active roster.