Where do we go from here?
One year ago, running back Doug Martin had the second-highest rushing total in the NFL. Ten months ago, he signed a five-year, $35.75-million contract to remain Tampa Bay’s feature back after his second Pro Bowl berth. Five months ago, he was making fans “ooh and aah” in training camp. Two weeks ago, Dirk Koetter was still defending Martin as the team’s franchise back.
As of today, none of that seems to matter, and the future of Martin as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer may be more than just in question.
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The move to make inactive Martin again this week, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times’ Rick Stroud, sends the message that despite being the franchise’s fourth all-time leading rusher in just four years, Martin’s hard fall from grace has resulted in his roster spot no longer being a lock in 2017, even with his contract. Martin hasn’t rushed for over 100 yards in a single game since last November, but you’ve all read that stat plenty of times. The more damning stat is that he hasn’t even had a game where he’s averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry since December of 2015.
Martin’s presence this week likely wouldn’t have mattered in the grand scheme of things as the Buccaneers’ playoff chances are all but shot. However, not even making Martin available to play is different than just benching him. Making Martin, who has rushed for just 421 yards and three touchdowns on 144 carries (2.9 avg.), a healthy scratch makes you think they’ve already put out feelers for him, and if there has been any interest from other teams in acquiring him, the Bucs are not going to risk his trade value.
But, even if the writing on the wall becomes true, how likely is it that Martin gets dealt this offseason? There are a couple factors to think about when speculating that possibility. First, Martin’s 2017 contract money of $7 million is fully guaranteed. That means that any team trading for him would have to pick that up, regardless of how much he plays.
With that in mind, you figure a team trading for him is going to make him its primary running back. On paper, there are a few teams who might take that bait. The Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles are two that come to mind. Perhaps the Jacksonville Jaguars or New York Giants take a swing at him with their less-than-ideal rushing totals this year – though those teams would take some moving around of their own.
But finding a trade suitor is all about value. Regardless of whether or not there is interest between both parties, if the two can’t find a common ground, a trigger will not be pulled. With Martin being a healthy scratch again, you figure the Bucs are trying to protect his value (whatever that is) as much as they can. The guess here is they’re looking to get some kind of Day 2 pick in the 2017 draft for him – meaning round 2 or 3. That’s where negotiations will start – though the final price would most likely be less. In addition to price, there’s another layer to Martin’s value, and that is, a very stacked running back class for the 2017 NFL Draft.
Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers & QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Those four teams I named and more all need a feature running back, but what may hurt the Bucs cause in moving Martin the most is the likes of LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florid State’s Davin Cook, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and others who are all possible players toying with general managers’ imaginations. The Colts and Jaguars have a chance at those top two guys, Fournette and Cook, while the other teams could have their eyes on getting a player like Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, Clemson’s Wayne Gallman or Texas’ D’Onta Foreman in the round two or three range that the Bucs would be asking for Martin.
So, is it really worth trading for a guy who will turn 28 in January with a fully guaranteed 2017 contract coming off the worst stretch of career with a pick that could be one of those players? That might be a tough sell.
The next factor in Martin’s value lies in how much the Bucs think they’re losing by letting him go. For that, you have to look at whom they’ll have without him. Jacquizz Rodgers got most of the running back work last week, and will likely continue to be the top guy in the Bucs’ season finale. Rodgers is 26 years old and leads Tampa Bay with a career-high 485 yards and two touchdowns on 112 carries.
In his six seasons in the NFL, Rodgers has never averaged less than 3.5 yards per carry when given at least 50 carries in a season, but he’s also never been trusted with a full-time load over 16 games. This season has been his heaviest workload, and it has also been his most productive. Is it time for him to get that chance?
It’s obvious that Koetter likes Rodgers enough to play him now, but Rodgers is also an unrestricted free agent this coming offseason. Rodgers certainly won’t get the deal Martin did, but re-signing him this offseason will come with some sort of a commitment. Charles Sims is in the third year of his rookie deal, so he’ll be on the team next season entering a contract year. However, never considering Sims the starter over Martin during his struggles, and immediately going to Rodgers hints that Sims is not a guy the team is grooming to be a feature back, nor has Sims shown the ability to develop into that type of a runner.
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs will also have Peyton Barber, who has rushed for over 200 yards and is averaging 4.1 yards per carry, and possibly Russell Hansbrough, who is reportedly being signed from the New York Giants’ practice squad to Tampa Bay’s active roster this week, moving forward at the running back position. Hansbrough spent training camp and the preseason with the Bucs.
Those are all things to consider when mulling over Martin’s murky future in pewter and red. Even with his contract guaranteed for next year, in an age where running backs can come at a dime a dozen, if there were any time to get something out of Martin, trade-wise, this offseason would be the time to strike. For now, he’s a Buccaneer, but he won’t be suiting up with the rest of them on Sunday.