Doug Martin not guaranteed starting job when he returns from suspension

Jameis Winston hands off to Doug Martin
Gary Rahman, USA Today Sports

As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepare to hopefully take their next step towards playoff relevancy, running back Doug Martin’s future remains murky.

Set to serve the final three games of a four-game suspension to open the season, Martin might not be the starter when he returns to the fold.

“Look, he has done everything we’ve asked him to do, and he looks reminiscent of 2015 when he was playing for his contract,” general manager Jason Licht said, per Dan Graziano of ESPN. “He looks the same out there, mentally and physically. So he might be one of those guys that needs a carrot. And he’s got a pretty big carrot in front of him right now, because there’s no guarantees that he’s going to be here. And he knows that. We’ve talked to him, and he’s good with it. He goes, ‘I understand.'”

Martin’s career has been full of ups and downs already. As a first-round rookie out of Boise State he absolutely dominated, racking up 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Then he spent two years struggling to produce while dealing with multiple injuries. In 2015 he had another huge season, rushing for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns. Then last year he managed to play just eight games and averaged a mere 2.9 yards per carry.

That Martin can be a dominant force is undeniably true. But the fact remains that other players might step up in his absence.

“I can only control everything that I can control right now — just show up to camp, play hard and show them that I can continue to be that starting back,” Martin said. “And when the time comes when I come back, we’ll see what happens. So it’s still in the air. It’s still in the air. I’m hopeful, and we’ll see what happens. I just show them what I’m capable of doing, and that’s 2012 Doug, that’s 2015 Doug. And if I do that, everything else will fall into place. So we’ll see.”

The Bucs have some talent behind Martin, which is a big reason why the starting job isn’t necessarily his for the taking when he returns from his suspension.

Graziano reports the Bucs feel confident veteran Jacquizz Rodgers can handle the load during the first four games, and they are comfortable with Charles Sims as the third-down back. Then there is Peyton Barber and talented rookie Jeremy McNichols, who could be a big factor in the passing game.

It won’t be a surprise if the Bucs don’t miss Martin while he’s gone. At the same time, this gives the team a luxury of working him back into the lineup gradually, which could be immensely beneficial at the end of the season when it’s time for the playoffs.