The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made an early splash in free agency. It just happened to be in their own pool.
General Manager Jason Licht may want to expand his post-victory pool-leaping tradition to matters of the roster after Wednesday's terrific news: The Buccaneers and running back Doug Martin have agreed to a new 5-year contract. Martin had been due to become an unrestricted free agent at 4:00 p.m. ET.
In the two months between the end of the 2015 season and the beginning of free agency, both Licht and Martin stated their hope that the NFL's second-leading rusher would continue his career as a Buccaneer. Now that those desires are a reality, Martin can build on his outstanding first season in Dirk Koetter's offense and the Buccaneers can reap the benefits of a dynamic rushing talent just entering his prime. Martin turned 27 in January, just before playing in his second Pro Bowl in four years.
After running for 1,402 yards in 2015, Martin now owns two of the top three single-season rushing totals in the Buccaneers' 40-year history. With his new deal in place he now has an excellent chance to catch the man with the top mark on that list, James Wilder, as the all-time leading rusher in franchise annals. Martin has already run for 3,806 yards in his four NFL seasons to move up to fourth on the Bucs' career rushing chart; Wilder tops it with 5,957 yards, a record that has stood for more than 25 years.
Photos of running back Doug Martin from the 2015 season.
There's reason for optimism that Martin could challenge Wilder within just a couple seasons, which is of course why the team was so motivated to keep him away from the free agent market. After two seasons in which he was slowed by injury, Martin had a fantastic bounce-back season in 2015 that coincided with the arrivals of then-Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter and quarterback Jameis Winston. Those three plus such promising young players as left tackle Donovan Smith, right guard Ali Marpet, wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins now have an opportunity to grow together into what could be the most productive offense the Bucs have ever seen. That crew already set a new single-season team record last year with 6,014 net yards from scrimmage.
Now, of course, Koetter is the Buccaneers' head coach and he will continue to call plays and get the most out of Martin's talents, just as he did during his years of calling plays for Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor in Jacksonville. In addition, as Winston continues his expected development under center, an improving passing attack should provide Martin with more room to run.
Martin's return also keeps the Buccaneers' excellent one-two punch in the backfield intact. Last year, Martin and running mate Charles Sims were the most prolific running back tandem in the NFL, combining for 2,763 yards from scrimmage, including 1,673 for Martin and 1,090 for Sims. Both backs also averaged an excellent 4.9 yards per carry, each ranking in the top seven in that category among all qualifying players. Martin had the NFL's best per-carry average among all players with at least 150 totes.
RB Doug Martin led the NFL in rushes over 20 yards. Check out his 20+ yard gains in ascending order.
Martin first came to the Buccaneers as a first-round draft pick in 2012 after the team traded up from the top of Round Two to get the Boise State standout at #31 overall. He burst immediately onto the NFL scene with his first Pro Bowl campaign, running for 1,454 yards, scoring 11 rushing touchdowns and racking up 1,926 yards from scrimmage overall. All three of those marks were new Buccaneer rookie records, and the latter total was the third-highest in NFL history by a first-year player. It was also the third-highest yards-from-scrimmage mark that season behind those put up by Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson (2,314) and Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson (1,964).
Martin's 2015 season might have been even more impressive. Even though it was highlighted by an incredible 235-yard outburst in a Week 11 win at Philadelphia – the top single-game rushing total by any NFL player last year – it was also marked by great consistency. He ran for at least 50 yards in 12 of his 16 outings and at least 70 yards in 10 of those games. Martin also consistently produced big plays, with 38 runs of 10 or more yards and a league-leading 14 carries that went for 20 or more yards.
Tampa Bay has now re-signed two of the 10 players from their 2015 roster who were set to become unrestricted free agents. The team also struck a new deal with fifth-year safety Keith Tandy on Tuesday. In addition, tender offers were extended to restricted free agents safety Bradley McDougald and wide receiver Russell Shepard and to exclusive rights free agents long-snapper Andrew DePaola, linebacker Jeremiah George and defensive end Jacquies Smith.