Doug Martin looks set to hit free agency next week, and there's no indication that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are close to reaching an agreement -- though both they and Martin want to be reunited for the 2016 season. In large part that's because of money: the Bucs reportedly don't want to break the bank to keep a back who struggled in 2013 and 2014. But we don't really have a good idea of what Martin can expect to get on the open market, and whether the Bucs could end up re-signing him after he explored his options.
Former sports agent and current contract analyst Joel Corry went through the top free agents on the market and the kinds of contracts they can expect for CBS. Corry expects Martin to get a five-year, $35 million contract with $17.5 million in guarantees and $24 million in the first three years. Effectively, that's a $7 million per year contract that's worth $8 million per year in the first three seasons -- a nice compromise between the $8 million per year standard we've seen for most of the second-tier running backs in recent years, and the doubts that exist for Martin due to his injuries and declining play in 2013 and 2014.
Unfortunately for Martin, it's been a buyer's market in free agency with running backs in recent years. Prior to DeMarco Murray getting a five-year, $40 million contract (worth a maximum of $42 million through salary escalators) with $21 million in guarantees from the Philadelphia Eagles last year, Michael Turner in 2008 was the last running back to switch teams in free agency with a deal over $5 million per year. He received a six-year, $34.5 million contract (with $15 million guaranteed and an additional $1.5 million in salary escalators) from the Atlanta Falcons eight years ago.
The plan would be to employ the concept of Ray Rice's front-loaded dea with Martin. The five-year contract Rice signed with the Ravens in 2012 only averaged $7 million per year, but $29 million was in the first three years. He was tops in running back compensation during 2012 and 2013 with $25 million. No team is going to frontload Martin's contract to that extreme.
The Ray Rice deal is interesting, because it's way back in 2012. The salary cap was $120.6 million that year, compared to just over $155 million this season. That's a rise of 28.5%, which if we apply that to Rice's $7 million per year would end up at $9 million per year. That the NFL isn't paying running backs other than Adrian Peterson anywhere close to that amount says something about the collapse of the running back market.
The fact that the Houston Texans just released Arian Foster won't help Martin's market, nor will his struggles to be productive for two years. That means the Bucs' hopes of re-signing won't be ended just because he tests the market. Corry does name one interesting scenario: former Bucs personnel director Jon Robinson could end up signing him for the Tennessee Titans, having seen what Martin did for Jameis Winston last year.