The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are being lauded as having one of the best drafts in the league, largely due to having a top 10 talent in Alabama All-American tight end O.J. Howard fall to them at No. 19 in the first round.
But the Bucs weren’t the only winners in the draft.
So was Doug Martin, the team’s Pro Bowl running back in 2013 and again in ’15.
All indications point to Martin sticking with the Bucs in 2017 despite him not being available for the first three games of the season due to a league suspension. I said as much on PewterReport.com’s Twitter on Monday night.
From everything I’ve heard coming out of One Buc Place, Doug Martin isn’t going anywhere. He looks great and he’ll be a Buccaneer this year.
— Scott Reynolds (@PewterReport) May 1, 2017
Bucs general manager Jason Licht took to NFL Network’s Good Morning Football show to suggest the same thing when asked about Martin’s future in Tampa Bay.
“He’s looked as good as I’ve seen him here the last couple of weeks through OTAs both mentally and physically,” Licht said about Martin. “He’s been outstanding. We do like our backfield. Jacquizz Rodgers played a big role for us last year and answered the bell. We’ve got Charles Sims who we see being healthy in training camp this year. We’ve got Peyton Barber and now we’ve drafted Jeremy McNichols. We like to have options. One of those options we like having with us right now is the second-leading rusher in 2015 with Doug Martin.”
That echoed Licht’s own remarks after Day 2 of the draft on Friday night, giving strong indications that Martin is a big part of the Bucs’ plans this year.
“We like our group and since Doug (Martin), since he went through the situation that he’s been in, it hasn’t been just the last two weeks,” Licht said. “We’ve been happy with the trajectory that he’s on. I’ve said that before, but it’s the truth. He has the right mindset right now and looks good physically. We still have some time there. Just two years ago he was the second-leading rusher in the NFL. We like Jacquizz obviously, and Charles, Peyton. Sometimes people seem to think that – that’s within the building we feel comfortable with our guys and that includes Doug.”
Not only did Tampa Bay not sign free agent and future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson in free agency, watching him sign with division rival New Orleans instead, the Bucs didn’t spend a premium pick on a running back. That would be a clear indicator that the team was moving on from Martin, who was given a four-game suspension at the end of last year for PED (performance enhancing drug) use– three games of which will have to be served at the start of the 2017 regular season.
The Bucs passed on Florida State runner Dalvin Cook at No. 19 and were prepared to do so in the second round, although Minnesota, which selected ahead of Tampa Bay, drafted Cook with the 41st overall pick.
The Bucs also passed on Toledo running back Kareem Hunt, USF’s Marlon Mack and Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine – three rushers the team had invested a lot of time with – in both the second and third rounds to select Texas A&M safety Justin Evans and Penn State wide receiver Chris Godwin, respectively.
Tampa Bay selected McNichols in the fifth round, but he’s considered to be more of an immediate threat to Sims’ status as the team’s pass-catching running back on third down than he is to Martin as a feature back-type runner.
Martin has been a standout in the team’s offseason condition program, and that has boosted his stock at One Buccaneer Place.
“Doug has looked awesome the past couple of weeks,” Bucs tight end Cameron Brate told PewterReport.com. “He’s been dominating the conditioning drills. That’s not something you can fake – those conditioning drills. You have either been putting in the work or you haven’t. Just to see him in good spirits – physically he looks awesome – all of the guys on the team love Doug. We’re excited to see him back. He’s happy and he’s healthy. We’re all excited for him.”
Martin won’t begin the season as a starter due to his three-game suspension. That duty will likely fall on the shoulders of Rodgers while Martin will be banned from One Buccaneer Place until September 25 to prepare for the Week 4 home game against the New York Giants.
There is a chance that the Bucs will approach Martin, who completed a self-induced substance abuse treatment program this offseason, about taking a pay cut. He was slated to make $7 million in base salary in 2017, but with the three game checks he will miss as a result of his suspension, he is scheduled to make $5,764,706 instead.
Martin signed a five-year, $35.75 million contract last year after rushing for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns and catching 33 passes for 271 yards and another score in 2015 in helping the Bucs offense achieve a Top 5 ranking and over 6,000 total yards for the first time in franchise history. However, a hamstring injury and ineffectiveness limited Martin to 421 yards and three touchdowns and a career-low 2.9 yards per carry in 2016. Martin also didn’t post a 100-yard game in a season for the first time in his career.
All remaining guaranteed money in Martin’s contract was voided when he was suspended for Week 17 last year. So if the team wanted to part ways with the former Boise State runner who was selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft there would be no dead cap hit for Tampa Bay.
But, for now, it appears Martin is here to say.