TAMPA, Fla. -- The accolades for running back Doug Martin when he was a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were numerous and well-documented -- two Pro Bowls, the third-most yards from scrimmage as a rookie in NFL history and the second-most rushing yards in the league in 2015. But even they couldn't justify keeping the former first-round draft pick around. Not with a $7 million salary, not after averaging just 2.9 yards per carry the past two seasons and not with all that baggage.
So after posting a 27th-ranked rushing attack in 2017 (30th-ranked if you include the past two seasons), and after Martin's failure to post 100 yards in the past 25 games, the Bucs had to make the cut. In doing so, they opened the door to overhaul their running back room in 2018.
But how will Martin be remembered as a Buc? Aside from the "Muscle Hamster" nickname he despised, the "Teach Me How to Dougie" song that blared throughout Raymond James Stadium on game days and the Michael Jackson dance moves he showed off on HBO's "Hard Knocks" he'll be remembered as a player whose best performances came as a rookie and with a new contract at stake. As a rookie (2012) and again in his contract year (2015) he rushed for more than 1,400 yards. He could have been so much more.
In his rookie season when he was eager to prove himself, he produced 1,926 yards from scrimmage, the third-highest total in NFL history behind Eric Dickerson (2,212 in 1984) and Edgerrin James (2,139 in 1999). He had 10 games with 100-plus yards from scrimmage, the most ever by a Buccaneer. Martin wouldn't have another 1,000-yard season until 2015, finishing his other four seasons with less than 500 yards, although injuries did play a role.
Martin will also be remembered as a guy the Bucs gave a second chance, only to see the move backfire. After he was suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and entered a drug treatment program, the Bucs could have cut him. He was no longer owed any guaranteed money because he violated the terms of his contract. No one would have faulted them for it in a bottom-line business, especially leading up to a draft that featured Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook and Kareem Hunt.
But the Bucs felt that they needed to stick by Martin and see what he could do once healthy again in mind and body. They believed in him. They believed he was regaining control of his life and was in his best physical shape in years. They wanted to see if he could return to his 2015 form, when he rushed for 1,402 yards, second only to Adrian Peterson. He re-signed with the Bucs -- a five-year deal worth $35.75 million with $15 million guaranteed. At the time, it was hailed as a major victory for a run-first offense with a young quarterback who wouldn't have to rely so much on his arm. Things didn't work out, though.
In 11 games in 2017, Martin rushed for 406 yards, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Even worse -- he was benched in favor of Peyton Barber, a 2016 undrafted free agent, for the final three games of the season. He was also a healthy scratch on Monday Night Football in Week 15 for violating an unspecified team rule. Did the Bucs' poor run-blocking play a role in Martin's struggles in 2017? Yes, and the Bucs have acknowledged that they have to get better there. But breaking a team rule when he was already on a tight leash did him no favors.
Remember LeGarrette Blount, whom the Bucs shelved in 2012 in favor of Martin, and traded away to the New England Patriots in 2013? They said he was too hesitant at the line of scrimmage, had too much of a checkered past and wasn't a "Schiano man" under then-head coach Greg Schiano. Martin was considered a "Schiano man."
Blount went on to become a scoring machine, amassing 38 rushing touchdowns since 2013, second most of any running back in the league during that span. He now has three Super Bowl rings in eight years, and every time he becomes a free agent, Bucs fans clamor for him. Certainly he would have enjoyed the job security Martin's had at a position that rarely affords it.
Now 29 and coming off two bad seasons, a suspension and playing a position deemed disposable by plenty of NFL teams, Martin won't have that type of job security or notoriety again either. And the only person he can blame for that is himself.