Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
Sikkema’s Stat of the Week
Here’s the thing about Doug Martin.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t going to give up on him as easily as you’d think, regardless of the shelf life of the position, and, to be honest, they shouldn’t. In fact, we – myself included – were wrong to think otherwise during the offseason.
In his rookie season, Martin was fifth in the entire NFL in rushing yards with 1,454. At the time, that was the eighth-best rookie season ever for any running back in NFL history, a pretty rare feat, if you ask me. In 2015, he was second to only Adrian Peterson in yards on the ground with 1,402. Martin also had the highest yards per carry average of any running back that season who recorded over 1,000 yards.
“But, Trevor, what about him missing three of his five seasons due to injury?”
A valid question, one that Martin cannot outrun, even in his finest seasons. But, here are some things to chew on when bringing that up. Even with three seasons where he failed to recorded at least 500 yards on the ground (injuries), all of which involved a yards-per-carry average of less than 4.0, Martin is not only the fourth-leading rusher in franchise history, but he’s also still tied for the highest YPC average of any player in the Top 10 of that group. That tells us what? That when he’s healthy, Martin has been one of, if not the, most talented Buccaneers running back in the history of the franchise considering he’s 28 years old and missed a good amount of time. If you give Martin the 563 carries he’s short of franchise leader, James Wilder, Martin’s average (and even slightly below) easily eclipses Wilder’s mark, and would make Martin the only Buccaneer to ever rush for over 6,000 yards. That’s something that could happen in the next two or three years.
Another point I couldn’t help but notice when looking up Martin’s stats was this: Look around at the list of top running backs in the years Martin had success. In it, you’ll see names like Alfred Morris, Stevan Ridley, Shone Greene, etc. The next year you have players like Darren McFadden and Chris Ivory. These are players who are long gone in terms of top relevancy, and this is just a few years ago. You know who isn’t? Martin. Playing football is hard; running the football is hard. If you find something that works, keep it. Don’t let yourself become a revolving door at running back with one-year wonders. When Martin plays, he works.
My final point with Martin is this, and it’s going to get real down-to-business. If Martin would have been healthy for the entire season, would the Buccaneers have made the payoffs last year? Yes.
If Martin would have been healthy for the entire season, would the Buccaneers have made a playoff run longer than the first round? No.
The Buccaneers were close, but they weren’t near ready for a deep playoff run. So, knowing that, Martin getting hurt for extended time, and getting popped with a suspension might have actually been the best thing for the Buccaneers in hindsight.
Now, don’t take this the wrong way, please.
I am not saying that Martin going through the personal battles and inner demons he went through was “good.” I don’t wish it upon someone, and above all, I hoped that his well being would be what was worked out most from that situation. But, now that things appear to be on the right track, here’s what the Buccaneers are looking at and have been looking at all offseason.
The Bucs know the talent they have in Martin, as I stated above. Because of that, they paid him a five-year, $35.75 million deal that made him the second-highest paid running back in the NFL a year ago. That’s not good for business. I don’t care how you spin it. Running backs get hurt, and we’re seeing more rushing attacks be used with multiple parts as opposed to feature systems. It’s a bad investment, even if it’s something they “had” to do because of the market and Martin’s recent success. But with Martin’s suspension, now the guaranteed money from that contract is no longer guaranteed. Throughout the offseason, the media has asked, and asked, and asked about what would be done with Martin and Bucs general manager Jason Licht has sort of smiled and said, “Guys, we’re not going to rush this. We don’t have to. We have the time to be patient and that’s what we’ll be.”
Tampa Bay hopes to avoid abandoning Doug Martin and the run Sunday in New Orleans.
What that patience meant was that if Martin was to return (or, be worth it) it was most likely going to come with a desire for redemption. He would, you’d think, play harder than he ever has, and be more focused than he ever has, too. Then the Buccaneers were going to restructure his deal. They were going to get out of the bad contract they gave him due to the timing of the market, and be able to give him a contract better suited for the value of the running back. If he gets hurt, if he relapses or if he’s just plain bad, they’re no longer on the hook.
So, if that is the case, if that was the master plan, look what the Buccaneers will have out of it. They will have a proven, successful running back who is playing on a non-guaranteed contract (no risk, all reward) who should be focused and driven to be the best he’s ever been, and, not only that, but Martin will have been long rested from an easy 2016 season in terms a wear-and-tear, a season that wasn’t going to end in a championship anyways.
Plus, now there’s a plan B – or C or D. The Bucs now know what they have in Jacquizz Rodgers as a dependable power back from Martin’s absence. Charles Sims is healthy and on the last year of his contract, so he’ll be motivated to get a new deal, too. And that’s not to mention the new guy in town, Jeremy McNichols, who shows complete back traits to work in a committee early on. My point is, if Martin performs, he’ll be a steal, so long as they rework his contract. If he doesn’t, the Bucs don’t lose anything by moving on, and already have a jump on the future.
This is the time. That’s been the plan all along. We were all just too impatient to wait for it to happen.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: email@example.com