Tampa Bay Buccaneers show their trust in Doug Martin
By James Hesdra
The Buccaneers have made it abundantly clear that they have faith in Doug Martin.
Doug Martin burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2012, rushing for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns for a 7-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that appeared to be on the rise. Since then, it has been a roller coaster ride for both the Bucs and Martin. The former first round pick suffered a torn labrum the following year, limiting him to only six games of action before being placed on the season-ending injured reserve. His 3.6 yards per carry when healthy were nothing to write home about anyway. Injuries hindered Martin’s play again in 2014, making him rush for 3.7 yards per carry in 134 attempts.
It was a lackluster two years of play from Martin, injuries having a whole lot to do with it. It wasn’t until 2015 that the “Muscle Hamster” (a nickname Martin hates) returned to form. Playing alongside rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and second year stud Mike Evans, Martin rushed for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns as part of one of the most explosive offenses in Tampa Bay history. His 1,402 yards were good for second in all of football and gave the front office enough trust in Martin to re-sign him to a new deal, a year after declining his fifth year option. His second Pro Bowl stint got him a fat five-year, $35.75 million contract extension, hoping that the 2012/2015 is the real Doug Martin.
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Unfortunately, this past year was Martin’s worst as a pro and the drama surrounding him made matters even worse. Not only were his 2.9 yards per carry by far a career low but he got suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy by testing positive for Adderall. It happened at a pivotal point of the year as the Bucs were fighting for a playoff spot until the last game, a game that Martin missed on top of now being suspended for the first three games of the 2017 season. The Bucs fans and coaches were expecting a big year from their fifth year running back, instead getting another disappointing and injury plagued filled season that ended with a suspension. Martin let his team down and he knew it, entering a treatment facility after the season to get the help that he needed.
Between the inconsistent play over the last five years and now this whole fiasco, there were serious talks that the Bucs were finally going to pull the trigger and let go of Martin. Making that option even more intriguing was the fact that the Bucs could have voided the rest of the guaranteed money on his contract because the PED suspension allowed them to do that. The Bucs ultimately decided not to go down that path.
Other then bringing back last year’s season savior Jacquizz Rodgers, the team decided not to sign a running back during the free agency period. With names like Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy, Latavius Murray, and Jamaal Charles, star power was of no shortage on the open market but the Bucs smartly avoided making the big splash. Even though the fan base would have loved seeing a big name come aboard to Tampa Bay, usually not listening to the fan base is the proper way to go.
Since the Bucs weren’t aggressive in shoring up the running back position through free agency, many believed that they would pounce on a ball carrier in the draft. They were looked at as a hot destination for Dalvin Cook with the 19th pick and were believed to definitely pick a back in the first few rounds. Once again the Bucs chose to go in a different direction, not picking one until the fifth round when they selected Jeremy McNichols out of Boise State. Even though McNichols does have a ton of upside as a pass catching threat out of the backfield, the Bucs were confident enough in their current group, including Martin, to not reach for a player early.
The team is content that a committee of Rodgers, McNichols, Charles Sims, and Peyton Barber will be able to handle the load until Martin returns in week 4 against the New York Giants. If they didn’t the Bucs would have made a move for a veteran, even though an addition is still possible before the season kicks off. After three inconsistent years and two excellent ones, Martin has a lot to prove this year to show everyone which player he truly is. He’s basically playing to keep his contract again, something that I’m sure will be in the back of his mind throughout the season. That’s a good sign because the players who are fighting for contracts are the ones who coincidentally have breakout years, just like Martin did in 2015.
There hasn’t been much actual football going on over off-season workouts but supposedly Martin is in great shape and looking like a man determined to live up to that contract. Just a few days ago Winston was saying
"“One name that’s going to shock… Doug Martin.” “He looks incredible. The way he’s bursting and just being so explosive. It really shows his resilience and how well he’s prepared this off-season.”"
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So not only does the team but even their quarterback believes in Martin to be the workhouse back that he has shown glimpses of being. If they didn’t, they would have addressed the position in free agency and the draft. This is going to be the biggest season of Doug Martin’s career, and the Bucs banking on him big time to lead them into the playoffs for the first time since 2007.