An optimistic beginning to the 2017 season ended in disappointment for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and for Jameis Winston and Doug Martin, it only created more questions.
Martin, a two-time Pro Bowler, mustered 406 rushing yards and three touchdowns this season. It was the second consecutive year he has failed to even surpass the 500-yard mark, which is a serious concern given the five-year, $35 million extension he signed in 2016. The Buccaneers’ struggles on offense were mostly due to their inability to move the ball on the ground.
They ranked 27th in the league in rushing this season.
That obviously put even more pressure on quarterback Jameis Winston. It probably didn’t help that Martin missed the first four games of the season while serving a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He was also benched for a game late in the season for violating a team rule.
There is hope that he can turn things around in 2018, but the Buccaneers might soon find out that he is more trouble than he’s worth. Perhaps things would be different if they were dealing with a younger player on a rookie contract. Martin is a 29-year-old veteran playing on a lucrative deal. If he can stay out of trouble, there is hope we’ll see that same dominant tailback from three years ago who ran for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns.
“I think the lack of, or having a hard time getting the run game going was… you know, Doug just didn’t have… he just wasn’t ever the same,” Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht told the Tampa Bay Times. “And it wasn’t until late that Peyton [Barber] kind of arrived and things started going a little bit better with him, starting with the Green Bay game and on and on.”
Getting the running game going is the key for the Buccaneers in helping Winston take his game to the next level.
The NFC South has quietly become one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. Six guaranteed meetings with the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers is a tall order for Winston’s offense, especially if he has to keep pace with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.
However, there is hope Winston’s passing game will continue to improve if the Buccaneers can establish a threat on the ground. He was actually more efficient than he has ever been in the NFL this year, finishing with a career-high completion percentage and quarterback rating.
Injuries have really been the only concern surrounding Winston, who could finally break out next season if he’s healthy.
“Number one I would say that – and I’m not using any of these as excuses – the injury to the quarterback early in the year, he gets knocked out at Arizona,” said Licht. “We trust our doctors, we trust the multiple opinions. We sent him out to see the best of the best, including our people, and we wouldn’t have put him out there if we thought that he could re-injure it. We didn’t think he could do worse damage to it. But clearly, not the same guy until late in the year when we did rest him and he came back and played. I think anytime when you have your quarterback go down, it’s just not going to be the same.”
There is hope that Winston and Martin can improve enough to give their team a chance to compete next season.
That’s the best you can ask for in a division that grows more frightening each year.