Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and general manager Jason Licht told the media at the NFL Scouting Combine what they told PewterReport.com in January: there are no imminent moves when involving suspended running back Doug Martin.
Martin, who tested positive for PED (performance enhancing drug) usage, which has been reported to be Adderall, was issued a four-game suspension from the league at the end of the 2016 season. Martin missed the 17-16 victory over Carolina in the season finale to start the suspension and is suspended for the first three games of the 2017 season.
After rushing for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns while averaging a career-best 4.9 yards per carry in 2015, the Bucs rewarded Martin with a five-year, $35.75 million deal last offseason after he was the NFL’s second-leading rusher and made his second Pro Bowl. But a hamstring injury he suffered in Week 2 caused him to miss seven games, and once Martin disclosed his drug problem to team officials prior to the New Orleans game in Week 16, he was inactive for that contest as well.
Bucs RB Doug Martin & head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The injuries and drug usage led to Martin having his worst season in the NFL, rushing for just 421 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 2.9 yards per carry, which was the lowest among starting running backs in the league last year. Some, including PewterReport.com, have speculated that his ability to be injury prone and his drug issues, could prompt the team to release him.
Koetter said that there is no hurry to make that call.
“We don’t have to make that decision right now,” Koetter said. “Doug did not have as good of a season as had in 2015 and that’s mainly due to injury. Doug is under contract right now and no decision has to be made on that right now. We don’t have to rush it. We’ll work through it as we go. That’s one of the things that is high on our list is what is going to happen with our running back situation, but we don’t have to make a decision on that right now.”
Martin’s suspension voids the $7 million in guaranteed money that he was set to receive in 2017, so there is no salary cap hit to the Bucs for releasing him. In fact, Tampa Bay would save $5,687,500 by cutting Martin, as that is how much he would make under his current contract excluding the three game checks of $437,500 he will miss due to his suspension for Weeks 1-3 of the 2017 regular season.
Yet the Bucs don’t owe Martin a penny until Week 4 of the regular season, so they will certainly keep him on the roster until potential replacements are found in free agency and the NFL Draft, and perhaps through training camp. While Martin must be barred from team facilities for the first three weeks of the season, he is eligible to work out with the team in mini-camps, OTAs and training camp, and can also play in the preseason.
“We’ve checked in with Doug,” Licht said. “His wellbeing is very important to us right now. We don’t have to make a decision right now. We have time. There’s no point in coming and saying what we want to do or plan on doing. We’re going to let the process play out, and that’s good for both parties.”
One thing the Bucs do need to do is find better performance at the running back position, which was led by Jacquizz Rodgers, a late addition just after training camp. Rodgers, who played in Koetter’s system in Atlanta for three years, led Tampa Bay in rushing with 560 yards and two touchdowns, while averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He is slated to be an unrestricted free agent, but the Bucs expect to re-sign him on the first day of free agency.
“We really like Jacquizz,” Licht said. “Because of a rule in the CBA and he was an MSB – a minimum signing benefit player – we can’t sign him until free agency starts. In an ideal situation we would love to have Jacquizz back.”
Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers – Photo by: Getty Images
Tampa Bay is also expected to draft a running back in a class that is extremely deep at the position. Players like Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey are on the Bucs’ radar in the first round, while Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara, Toledo’s Kareem Hunt and USF’s Marlon Mack are options on Day 2 of the draft.
Because of the depth of this draft class at running back, the Bucs may even find an option later on Day 3 or even in undrafted free agency, which is where Atlanta found Rodgers six years ago.
“There is that theory out there about getting the running backs late,” Koetter said. “When did the Patriots get Tom Brady? They got him kind of late. There are a lot of good football players out there. You can definitely make a case for what you said about the running backs because it’s proven. But there are also guys that have been gotten in the first round that have been pretty good football players, too.
“We were watching our cut-ups last night and we went through six running backs. We had six different running backs carry the ball last year compared to 2015 when we were a good running team we really had two guys carry the ball – Doug and Charles Sims. They carried it nearly every time. This year we had six running backs, six different guys, that’s usually not going to work out too well.”
Koetter was quick to admit that all of the blame for the Bucs’ lackluster running game should not fall on the shoulders of Martin and Sims, who also missed half the season with leg and groin injuries.
“Running backs don’t do it all on their own,” Licht said. “They have to have help. Anytime a player is injured for any long period of time, and I think Doug was out like six or seven weeks with that hamstring and reinjured it at one point in time and had to start back from scratch. I think there is also a psychological process, especially signing a big free agent [contract]. I think that the psychological side of guys that are injured – I think that flows through every player in the league. I don’t think Doug is the only guy that has that situation. Yeah, I think there was more than one thing. It’s a team game.”
The Bucs will gauge Martin’s progress from a physical and psychological standpoint this offseason and that evaluation will determine what – if any – role he’ll have in Tampa Bay in 2017. But it will be on on-going process past and through the OTAs at least, so don’t expect any quick decision on Martin anytime soon.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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