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Doug Martin proving himself may not be enough in the long run for the Buccaneers

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Martin will get his chances this year, but that doesn’t mean he’s a long-term solution.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a lot of talented players, but many of them have something to prove this year. Actually, all of them do: sustained quality play is not a given in the NFL, after all.

But one player has a lot more to prove than most, and that player is running back Doug Martin. At least that’s what SB Nation’s Christian D’Andrea says.

Martin suffered his worst season as a pro in 2016, gaining just 2.9 yards per carry during an injury-riddled campaign. Despite his struggles, the Buccaneers have kept him as their top option in the backfield, passing on free agents and a draft class loaded with tailback talent. That puts a lot of pressure squarely on Martin’s shoulders — if Tampa is going to earn its first playoff berth since 2007, it needs the burly back to produce. First, he’ll have to sit out a four-game suspension related to the drug policy issues that helped send him to rehab last winter.

He only has to sit out three more games to finish that four-game suspension (he served one game at the end of last season). Still, that’s a lot to prove this year— and the Bucs do have some competition for him in the form of Jacquizz Rodgers and, maybe, fifth-round pick Jeremy McNichols.

But that’s not a lot of competition, and Martin will get ample opportunity to show whether he still (or again) has what it takes to be a productive runner in the NFL. The question is whether he can do that—and whether the Bucs’ backup plans are good enough. They weren’t the previous times Martin disappointed.

If Martin does ‘prove’ himself, the Bucs will have another interesting decision next year: are they going to look for a Martin replacement, or will they once again bet on his replicating a quality year when he’s never had two good years in a row?

Martin will be 28 this season, and 29 next year—that’s old for a running back. Even if Martin proves himself this season, which is a big if, odds are the Bucs will start looking for a replacement. They already did by showing significant interest in Dalvin Cook, even if they didn’t end up selecting him.

So while Martin may or may not prove himself, it seems likely that his tenure as a Buccaneer is going to come to an end at some point in the next couple of years. Hopefully the Bucs will have find a different way to sustain their running game—or perhaps Jameis Winston won’t need a quality running game anymore to keep the offense going.