Doug Martin Has Proven Himself Worthy of Top RB Money in 2016 NFL Offseason

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2016

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 17: Doug Martin #22 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rushes in the third quarter  against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on December 17, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

What's this? Doug Martin nearly won the rushing championship in 2015? What world are we living in?

That's right, the running back all but left for dead—especially among those in the fantasy football community—may have drank from the fabled fountain for which Ponce De Leon desperately searched in Florida centuries ago.

The artist formerly known as Muscle Hamster turned in his best NFL season since his rookie explosion, clocking in at 1,402 rushing yards and six touchdowns despite playing in an often-struggling offense with a rookie quarterback under center.

He picked an excellent time to turn back the clock and earn a first-team All-Pro nod.

Martin looked spry well before the 2015 regular season began. Doubts loomed as his fantastic preseason came to a close, though. After all, anyone can show out when defenses aren't really trying.

Still, he showcased elusiveness and burst last season that had gone AWOL in 2013 and 2014, and those traits carried over into the season.

To wit, Martin led the league in Pro Football Focus' patented Elusive Rating last season, and he was the only running back to average over three yards after contact per attempt. He was second in the league with 4.9 yards per carry among backs with over 125 carries, too.

Martin was good enough to earn PFF's second-best rating for the entire season. Oddly enough, teammate Charles Sims earned the top rating, which could be a sign that the Buccaneers won't be ponying up to keep the veteran.

Despite poor play in the past couple of years, Martin's success last season was no aberration. His rookie campaign had a similar flavor, even if he wasn't involved as much in the passing game.

Martin's Familiar Season
YearAttYdsTDY/AYco/AttElusive Rating
Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus

Perhaps the fact he stayed healthy had something to do with Martin's return to success. A shoulder injury ultimately put him on IR in 2013, and he battled through knee and ankle woes in 2014.

So where does all this leave Martin as free agency looms? 

That depends. How much are teams willing to pay for running backs these days?

Joel Corry @corryjoel

Doug Martin is the All-Pro in a contract year least likely to capitalize on his success. There's no need to break the bank for a RB.

Joel Corry @corryjoel

It would be idiotic to franchise Doug Martin ($11.825M if $153.4M cap). RBs rarely switch teams in free agency for more than $5M per year.

The position hit a new low a few seasons back. A dearth of real talent on the market meant a slew of relatively tiny contracts. Toby Gerhart and Darren Sproles tied for the biggest contract signed that offseason—three years and $10.5 million.

That is a long way from the six-year, $86.5 million contract Adrian Peterson signed with the Vikings back in 2011.

The death knell had been sounded for the position—the NFL was now a passing league. The market had spoken.

We have begun to see a recovery from the Great Crash of 2014, though, and quality running backs have regained some footing in today's league.

It's hard to argue Peterson isn't worth a big contract considering it's obvious he carries his offense, and the Dallas Cowboys certainly missed DeMarco Murray, who signed a $40 million contract a year ago. LeSean McCoy signed a similar deal with $26 million guaranteed.

We saw C.J. Spiller and Mark Ingram ink nearly identical deals averaging $4 million a year. Even pass-catching, one-hit wonder Shane Vereen got a three-year deal worth more than Gerhart.

Though we won't see any contracts the size of Peterson's any time soon, we have seen quality backs buoy offenses in spite of the passing mandate.

Martin's skill set will net him plenty of looks on the open market if he gets there, though. He deserves it, too, at least if last season was Gospel. Wherever the market settles on the value of the position as a whole, Martin should sign the biggest deal at running back.


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