TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers face a big decision about the future of Doug Martin after the running back was suspended for four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
This past offseason, the Bucs signed the two-time Pro Bowl running back to a five-year deal worth $35.75 million with $15 million guaranteed. Martin is due $7 million in guaranteed money next season, but his contract states that with PED violations, substances of abuse and engaging in conduct detrimental to the team, among other offenses, the team may elect to void his 2017 guarantee in its entirety.
Had the Bucs merely cut him based on performance, they'd be on the hook for that money. Now, if they choose to do so, they can cut him without penalty, or they could choose to renegotiate his salary. His suspension officially begins now and would continue for three games next season. Martin, who announced on Monday that he will enter a treatment facility, has not stated how long he will be there, but the team has to prepare to move on without him.
Would the Bucs cut him? The team's philosophy isn't necessarily a "one-and-done." Players do get second chances. The key, though, is if a player demonstrates a pattern of behavior deemed detrimental to himself and the team. For example, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was cut earlier this year after he was arrested for his second DUI. This is Martin's first PED violation. However, Martin entering a drug rehabilitation program and his own admission that he has a problem, suggests this is a much bigger problem than merely one failed test.
If the Bucs opt to part ways with Martin, they'll likely want to re-sign Jacquizz Rodgers, who is currently on a one-year deal worth $760,000. Rodgers has stepped in and performed well enough to warrant a pay raise, starting four games and rushing for 485 yards on 112 carries, averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
Rodgers affords the flexibility of being a first- and second-down back, which he showed this year, along with being a third-down back and special-teams contributor, his role in Atlanta. He also, above all, has system familiarity and the trust of head coach Dirk Koetter from their time working together in Atlanta. And if the Bucs brought in some outside help, he has demonstrated a good attitude and willingness to do whatever is asked of him.
If Charles Sims wasn't on injured reserve, the Bucs would have Rodgers handling first and second down, with Sims handling third down, as well as contributing in the passing game. Sims was just placed on injured reserve with a chest injury. Rodgers will be backed up by rookie Peyton Barber along with Russell Hansbrough, who just re-signed with the club after spending time on the New York Giants' practice squad.
As far as next year, the Bucs would be well-served signing a running back in free agency or drafting one. The way the 2017 class of running backs is looking -- headlined by Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey and D'Onta Foreman -- the draft may be the more attractive option, along with bringing Rodgers back.