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Bucs' Doug Martin likely to hit open market

Doug Martin ran for 1,402 yards last season, even fighting off the occasional face mask penalty.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Doug Martin ran for 1,402 yards last season, even fighting off the occasional face mask penalty.

TAMPA — The NFL's second-leading rusher is about to find out what 31 other teams believe he's worth.

Barring an unforeseen development in negotiations, Bucs running back Doug Martin is expected to make it to the legal tampering period of free agency that starts Monday.

Discussions between Martin's agent, Brian Murphy, and Bucs general manager Jason Licht as late as Saturday afternoon had failed to close the gap to prevent Martin from talking to teams and possibly reaching an agreement either Monday or Tuesday.

The free agent signing period begins with the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Martin, who lost the rushing title to the Vikings' Adrian Peterson last season, is coming off a stellar All-Pro year in which he ran for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns. He also had 42 receptions for 271 yards and a score.

It's the second time in four seasons Martin has eclipsed 1,400 yards rushing, which he achieved as a rookie. But the Bucs failed to pick up his fifth-year option for $5.9 million in 2015 because of back-to-back injury-plagued years in 2013-14 in which he combined to play in only 16 games.

Tampa Bay can still negotiate with Martin after Monday, but at that point it risks losing him to another team and would have to consider other free agents to replace him such as the Dolphins' Lamar Miller or the Jets' Chris Ivory. The Dolphins and Miller are reportedly working on a new deal.

The Bucs have the seventh-most cap space in the league with about $49.2 million. But the team is not expected to pursue any top-dollar free agents.

The Packers, Broncos, Cowboys, Jets and Dolphins are among the teams that could be in the market for a running back.

Licht and Murphy met two weeks ago at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Licht said there were obstacles to overcome, but both sides have been eager to strike a deal for Martin to remain in Tampa Bay.

Martin helped the team's balance on offense last season and kept pressure off rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. In fact, Martin provided big plays, leading the league with 14 rushes of 20 yards or more, including four of more than 40 yards. That helped the Bucs set a club record with more than 6,000 yards of total offense last season.

It's unknown how far apart Martin is from the Bucs in his salary demands. Working against him might be his age. He turned 27 on Jan. 13 and typically production for running backs begins to plummet after age 30.

The team has Charles Sims, who totaled 1,090 yards last season — 529 rushing and 561 receiving (51 receptions). But the team would like to keep him in his role as a change-of-pace running back.

Bucs' Doug Martin likely to hit open market 03/05/16 [Last modified: Saturday, March 5, 2016 9:54pm]
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