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Bucs' Doug Martin still looks likely to reach free agency

Bucs running back Doug Martin gained 1,402 yards last season, second in the league, in a contract year.

ZACK WITTMAN | Times

Bucs running back Doug Martin gained 1,402 yards last season, second in the league, in a contract year.

INDIANAPOLIS

A few weeks ago, it was clear the Bucs believed RB Doug Martin would make it to free agency. The silence that followed the meeting between Martin's agent and GM Jason Licht last week did nothing to change that perception and at this point it would be a surprise if a deal is reached before the legal tampering period March 7-8, when teams can negotiate but not announce contract agreements.

No deal was expected at the NFL scouting combine, and there's too much time left before the start of free agency March 9 for either side to stop posturing. The franchise tag, which would guarantee a one-year deal at $11.789 million, is not an option.

Losing the NFL's second-leading rusher last season could be a big blow to the Bucs, who would have to address the position in free agency or the draft. That's because they see third-year pro Charles Sims as a change-of-pace back and not a premier ballcarrier. He finished with 529 rushing yards and 569 receiving yards last season.

"We really like Charles Sims," Licht said. "We think he can carry the ball. We think he's more valuable in the passing game. … And the thing about Charles Sims is he's never been thrust into the role where he's a workhorse. So you never know how that would work out. But we do like everything about him."

Coach 'em up: Among the reasons speculated for coach Lovie Smith's firing — aside from the 8-24 record — was the dissatisfaction with his assistants, particularly defensive backs coaches Gill Byrd, Larry Marmie and Mikal Smith, Lovie's son. Also, both original coordinators, Jeff Tedford and Leslie Frazier, had their play-calling duties removed.

But new coach Dirk Koetter retained nearly the entire offensive staff, adding receivers coach and offensive coordinator Todd Monken and special teams coach Nate Kaczor.

The biggest changes came on defense, where former Falcons coach Mike Smith takes over as coordinator. "I can sit here and tell you how great of a staff we put together, but that's going to be judged by other people, and that's going to play out over time," Koetter said. "But to be able to get a Mike Smith on defense, Nate Kaczor on special teams, that was one of the huge keys. … I mean, we've got a really good staff."

Speaking up: QB Jameis Winston's claim that he became the voice of the team when nobody would speak up after DT Clinton McDonald's injury in Week 7 does not bother Koetter.

"Jameis did a great job of letting the veterans lead," Koetter said. "But when you look at who the leaders are — on offense, the captains are Vincent Jackson and Logan Mankins. Ultimate pros, but quiet guys. Not outspoken guys by any means. On defense, Gerald McCoy does a good job of speaking up. Lavonte David? He's not going to say too much. Clinton McDonald did do the best job.

"That was just the right events lining up, and Jameis took it and the way the game (the following week at Atlanta) unfolded. We kind of blow a lead, get into overtime, Jameis makes a couple of unbelievable plays in overtime, we get the win. That whole day, from before the game, halftime speeches, to after the game, it was Jameis' team after that."

Bucs' Doug Martin still looks likely to reach free agency 02/27/16 [Last modified: Saturday, February 27, 2016 9:22pm]
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