The Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaching staff is reluctant to commit to Doug Martin as their running back No. 1, which is telling of the situation.
Heading into the offseason, one of the biggest question marks for the team as a whole was at running back. Sure, they signed Doug Martin to a five-year contract just a year ago. However, his inconsistency, injury history and the recent four-game suspension (which still has three games left to be served entering 2017) hung over him, casting a negative light.
Despite that, reports from the team seemed to indicate that Martin would get a shot at redemption. He impressed at early offseason workouts and the coaching staff said as much. What’s more, the Buccaneers chose not to use a premium draft pick on a running back. Instead, they waited until the mid-rounds to select Jeremy McNichols, ironically from Martin’s former home in Boise State.
All of this seemed to indicate a positive trajectory for Martin’s ongoing saga. Yet, that may not actually be the case. Per Pro Football Talk, head coach Dirk Koetter isn’t ready to commit to Martin. In fact, he called the running back’s status “to be determined” once his suspension is served. Koetter did also mention Martin’s impressive work this offseason, though.
Regardless of pleasantries capped on to the statement, though, it’s clear that the Buccaneers aren’t positive if they can put their trust in Martin. Truthfully, it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment that you can’t. His production has fluctuated wildly when he’s been on the field, and his healthy has hardly made him reliable to stay on the field.
Obviously Koetter and the Bucs aren’t going to make a decision this early in the offseason, but these types of comments this early in the offseason are telling. With an out in his five-year deal that would allow Tampa to incur no dead cap (per Spotrac) if he were cut this offseason, there is no reason to commit to Martin if they can’t rely on him.
Thus far, Martin hasn’t given them any reason to trust him, frankly. This isn’t about not giving a guy a second-chance because of a four-game PED suspension. Yes, that’s a factor, but it’s on top of the health and the play on the field that have been concerning. If they feel that he’s not going to be able to bolster the offense in the backfield, then he’s expendable.
With the likes of the talented McNichols and even Jacquizz Rodgers in the fold, the Buccaneers have other options. And it’s been clear throughout this offseason that they are looking for the offense to take a big leap forward. Signing DeSean Jackson in free agency was a major sign of this. But it was only furthered by drafting O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin in the first three rounds.
If Koetter and the Bucs organization feel as if Martin isn’t able to live up to his contract, then they’re going to cut him loose. And the fact that they aren’t willing to commit to him right now makes it seem as if they may be leaning that way. Nothing is certain as there’s a lot of offseason lying ahead. But the writing could very well be going up on the wall.