TAMPA — One thing the Bucs had to consider with Doug Martin's comeback from his suspension and rehab is his popularity with teammates and coaches. Consider this reaction from linebacker Lavonte David when he first saw Martin at One Buc Place during off-season workouts.
"As soon as he saw me, he ran up to me and gave me a hug," David said. "Me, Doug and (Keith) Tandy are the only guys left in that 2012 draft class here, so we kind of take that to heart.
"... To see him come back in great shape, smiling, happy, we knew there were no worries."
The Bucs had every reason to move on from Martin.
He has been injured three of his five NFL seasons.
He will miss the first three games of 2017 serving the remaining three games of his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing drugs.
He let his team down during the critical stretch of the season. Coach Dirk Koetter benched him during the Bucs' 31-24 loss at New Orleans on Dec. 24 that all but eliminated them from the playoffs.
Finally, and not insignificantly, because of his suspension, $7.5-million of compensation for Martin in 2017 is no longer guaranteed.
So why is Martin still very much in the Bucs' plans?
The draft fell Martin's way
It's reasonable to think the Bucs entered the NFL draft considering selecting a running back in the first two rounds. Eight were taken in the first three rounds, with Florida State's Dalvin Cook going 41st overall to the Vikings. Having received a gift when Alabama tight end O.J. Howard fell to them at No. 19, Tampa Bay addressed a need on defense by selecting Texas A&M safety Justin Evans.
The Bucs selected Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols in the fifth round. McNichols may eventually develop into a feature back, but his most immediate impact would be on third down.
They can afford to wait for him
A year ago, the Bucs were torpedoed by running back injuries. Martin suffered a hamstring strain in Week 2 at Arizona. Fortunately, they acquired Jacquizz Rodgers, who produced the Bucs' only 100-yard rushing performances last season in back-to-back wins at San Francisco (154 yards) and at Carolina (101).
With Martin unavailable until October, the Bucs may have to prepare Rodgers to carry the load in the interim. They also are confident in Charles Sims returning from a knee injury and the development of Peyton Barber and McNichols. A committee approach is likely, especially, with what should be an improved passing game.
Martin will be motivated
When he has something to prove, and can stay healthy, Martin is among the NFL's best ball carriers. As a rookie, he rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns. The next two years were injury-filled. A torn labrum in his shoulder wiped out 10 games in 2013. Knee and ankle injuries prevented him from playing in five games in '14. But when the Bucs failed to pick up his fifth year option, Koetter nailed the reason for his resurgence. "It's a contract year!" he said.
Martin finished second only to Adrian Peterson in rushing with 1,402 yards and six TDs
Because of his suspension, Martin would earn $5.76-million this season. The Bucs' tone has been more optimistic since the draft.
"Doug has looked as good as I've seen him here in the last few weeks through OTAs," general manager Jason Licht said. "Both mentally and physically, he's been outstanding...
"We like to have options and one of those options that's with us right now is the guy who was the second-leading rusher in 2015 — Doug Martin."