Depending on how they handle a few of their own impending free agents, the New England Patriots could have a need at running back this offseason.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Doug Martin received a call from Foxboro.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday released Martin after a tumultuous 2017 season that began with a four-game suspension and featured a separate one-game benching for a violation of team rules.
It was the second consecutive underwhelming campaign for the two-time Pro Bowler, who failed to crack 450 rushing yards in either of the past two seasons. Martin averaged just 2.9 yards per carry in 2016 and 2017 and appeared in just 19 of the Buccaneers’ 32 games. With his contract set to pay him $6.75 million in 2018, it’s no surprise Tampa Bay cut bait.
The Patriots are known for turning disgruntled or underperforming veterans into positive contributors, though, and Martin is just two years removed from earning first-team All-Pro honors in 2015. He racked up 1,402 rushing yards that season — second in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson — while also catching 33 passes for 271 yards and scoring seven total touchdowns.
Martin was even more productive as a rookie in 2012 (1,454 rushing yards, 472 receiving yards, 11 total touchdowns) after the Bucs drafted him in the first round. His coach that season? Greg Schiano, whom Patriots coach Bill Belichick thinks very highly of.
(It’s worth noting Martin followed that up with two mediocre seasons before breaking back out in 2015. Consistency is not his strong suit.)
New England was ridiculously deep at running back in 2017, but it could lose Dion Lewis and/or Rex Burkhead once free agency opens next month.
Burkhead, who missed seven games due to injury, shouldn’t be overly difficult to re-sign, but Lewis will be one of the most sought-after backs on the market after ranking second in the NFL in all-purpose yards over the second half of the season. He’ll almost certainly receive offers the Patriots would be unwilling to match.
James White and Mike Gillislee are the only Patriots running backs under contract for next season, and Gillislee hardly played after Week 8. Upgrading through the draft always is an option — this year’s running back class looks especially deep — but taking a flier on a former star like Martin couldn’t hurt, either.