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Lovie Smith says keeping Doug Martin is a priority

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Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers declined to pick up the fifth-year option in Doug Martin's contract this offseason, and that's coming back to bite them. Lovie Smith today said keeping Doug Martin is a "priority" -- and that means Tampa Bay is going to have to pay up to keep the Dougernaut around.

Martin is scheduled to be a free agent in 2016, and he's not going to come cheap. His 941 rushing yards rank second in the league, and his 1,129 yards from scrimmage rank fourth. He also leads the league in broken tackles, and has generally looked like a terrific runner. There's more going on here than just improved offensive line play: he's displaying more explosiveness and agility than he has in years, and he's even making people miss when he gets hit in the backfield. The line is improved, but he's making the line look a lot better as well.

The Dougernaut is having arguably the best season of his career, though his rookie performance comes close, after two extremely disappointing years. The Bucs may want to re-sign him, but a running back coming off a career year is always going to be expensive. As a general guideline, recent running backs have signed contracts ranging from $12-$13 million per year on the high end (Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch) to $7-9 million per year on the more reasonable end (Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray, Matt Forte and Jonathan Stewart).

Martin should expect to get something close to $8 million per year, and perhaps more -- a franchise tag would cost the Bucs $11 million, if this year's numbers are a good indication. The Bucs have the space to give him that kind of money and they can easily make more by releasing some expensive veterans, but Martin is going to take up a good chunk of cap space regardless -- and that may hurt the Bucs' chances of finding some extra defensive talent in free agency.