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News that Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin will "test the market" in free agency has Buccaneers personnel and fans weighing the pros and cons of inking the NFL's second-leading rusher to an expensive long-term deal.
The main cause for hesitation in re-upping Martin to a large deal has been the asking price. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reported Martin is hoping to hit the jackpot in free agency this year, and though that can mean a lot of things, it's probably fairly safe to assume that means the Muscle Hamster won't be settling on what may be his one chance at a large deal.
Now the question Jason Licht, Dirk Koetter and company will have to answer is how much is Doug Martin worth to the Buccaneers. From Stroud's piece, DeMarco Murray's 5-year, $40M contract may be the mark Martin is shooting for, and although some have scoffed at that price, it's not really that inflated of a contract for a player of Martin's caliber.
According to Spotrac, The godfather of all running back contracts in recent seasons is still the 3-year, $42M extension Adrian Peterson received last offseason, paying him $14M annually with $20M (more than 47 percent of the entire contract) guaranteed. Marshawn Lynch also signed an extension last season which payed him $12M a season on a contract that was 50 percent guaranteed. The next two running backs on the list — Jamaal Charles and Arian Foster — received $9.05M and $8.7M annually, respectively, on contracts with heavy guaranteed dollars.
Don't think Martin is the same caliber as those guys at the top? Aside from the aforementioned Murray contract, LeSean McCoy is also earning $8M a season with over 66 percent of his $40M deal guaranteed. Matt Forte also made $7.6M last season before his impending free agency.
And this is all before taking cap inflation into account.
What all that is saying is: you have to pay for quality. Sure, those are some of the best running backs in the league, but Martin is just as capable as any of them when he's healthy. In 2012 and 2015, the two seasons Martin played all 16 games, he rushed for 2,856 yards and 17 touchdowns on 607 carries (4.7 YPC) and added another 743 yards on 82 catches. There have only been five seasons of 1,400 rushing yards and 350 receiving years since 2010 — Martin's average healthy season.
It's also important to consider that, according to Pro Football Focus, Martin has done his damage with below average run blocking from the offensive line in front of him.
At his best, Martin has been an incredibly effective rusher, and done so with little help from his blocking. He has two 1,400-yard seasons to his name, and those seasons have come with 1,005 (2012) and 906 yards after first contact. Martin forced 110 missed tackles on his rushes over those two seasons and averaged more than 3 yards per carry after contact.
Those who are in the camp that running backs simply aren't worth doling out large contracts to should also use the salaries around Martin's asking price as a sign of the times.
Aside from Jonathan Stewart's deal paying $7.3M annually, the next four highest paid running backs in the league are Shane Vereen, C.J. Spiller, Mark Ingram, and Frank Gore. Each of those backs are paid close to $4M a year after signing contracts last offseason despite serious concerns about production, injury and/or age.
Those deals means it's unlikely the Buccaneers will land any running back at a contract far below Martin's projected value unless that back is coming with some serious warts.