The Curious Case of the Buccaneers Backfield And Doug Martin

This offseason is full of questions at the running back position for the Buccaneers. In which direction will the Bucs go?

Going into the offseason last year, the main objective was to re-sign running back Doug Martin. A year later the decision lies on if he should stay around or if the Buccaneers should look in a different direction.

A year after picking up 1,673 scrimmage yards and earning a five-year, $35.75 million contract, Martin disappointed, spending most of the season hurt and picking up a four-game suspension at the end of the season for a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Martin tested positive for Adderall and after considering fighting the suspension, decided to check into rehab, so only three of the four games imposed on that suspension will carry over to next season.

Besides losing $1.47 million of salary for the games Martin will be suspended, the Buccaneers now have the option of voiding out his contract without facing any dead cap. So do the Buccaneers decide to keep Doug Martin around? It’s a great question considering the team does have a few different scenarios to play out.

Photo: ESPN

When Martin went down with a hamstring injury this season, the Buccaneers turned to running back Jacquizz Rodgers to pick up the slack. Rodgers proved capable of handling the lead role, averaging 25 carries a game for a stretch of three games between weeks 5-8. Problem with moving forward with Rodgers is the heavy workload did see him miss four games with a foot injury, and he is also a free agent.

Then there is Adrian Peterson.

Adrian Peterson

The future Hall of Fame running back named the Buccaneers as one of three teams he would be willing to play for next season. The Minnesota Vikings have until February 5th to exercise Peterson’s 2017 contract, a move that seems highly unlikely as it comes with a $18 million cap hit.

If Peterson was to join the Buccaneers in 2017, it would be under the assumption that Rodgers’ and Martin’s days in Tampa are numbered.

Martin is due $5.76 million in 2017, a number that could go towards the payment of a contract for Peterson. Peterson will command nowhere near the $18 million he was promised by the Vikings in 2017, but will not come cheap either.

Although Peterson is going to be 32 when the 2017 season rolls around, if he feels he is good to go, there is no reason to bet against him. The current Minnesota Vikings running back is coming off an injury which could also be an area of concern.  However, Peterson has proven in the past he has exceptional ability to bounce back from shortened seasons. After tearing his ACL and MCL in 2011, Peterson was named MVP in 2012 after rushing for over 2,000 yards with 12 touchdowns. He was also suspended for almost all of 2014, and bounced back with 1,485 yards and 11 scores.

Even if the Buccaneers do decide to roll forward with Peterson, grabbing a running back in the draft would be a wise move. Although much attention has been around Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook, chances are both will be gone before the Buccaneers choose at 19. Regardless of their availability, the Buccaneers may choose to improve their secondary with their first-round pick.

There is value to be had in the later rounds for running backs, especially if Adrian Peterson signs with the Bucs and could serve in the mentor role. One of those players could be Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon. In 2016, Mixon accounted for over 1,800 yards from scrimmage and scored 15 times.

Mixon is a first-round talent that is being overlooked by many clubs due to a 2014 misdemeanor assault charge where he was caught on camera striking a woman. Peterson has also found himself in hot water in 2014 for child abuse. Peterson was able to bounce back and stay out of trouble since, and could serve as a mentor and support system for Mixon.

If Peterson does not sign, and the Buccaneers decide to part with Doug Martin, the draft could still provide answers. When the Buccaneers hit the clock with their second-round pick and a need for a running back, if Christian McCaffrey is available, the Bucs would be foolish to overlook him. McCaffrey averaged 6.2 yards per carry over the course of his college career with Stanford. He also proved to be a workhorse, averaging 23.6 carries per game in his sophomore and junior seasons.

Another object that could work out well for the Buccaneers? Change nothing.

Keeping Doug Martin around may not prove to be the worst idea in the world. He is only one year removed from a stellar season. He spent a lot of time this year dealing with injury, and his compliment back, Charles Sims, spent most of this season injured as well. Putting the two of them together and healthy again could prove to be a viable option. Having Jacquizz Rodgers come back to be the change of pace RB3 would build a pretty solid foundation, something the Buccaneers figured to have before the Martin mess. This scenario completely rides on Martin getting clean and possibly even taking a pay cut.

Get ready because this offseason should prove to be a wild ride, no matter what direction the Buccaneers decide to go concerning their backfield.