TAMPA — The Buccaneers decided not to wait until the end of the season to begin negotiations aimed at signing two-time Pro Bowl RB Doug Martin to a new contract.
Martin and Bucs general manager Jason Licht acknowledged discussions designed to keep Martin from hitting the free-agent market have already begun.
“We’ve already talked a little bit,’’ Licht said. “We will definitely be talking (more). We’d love to have Doug back.’’
The feeling is apparently mutual, with Martin reiterating that returning to Tampa is his top priority.
“I love it here and I have a beautiful home here,’’ Martin said. “I’d love to come back. But right now I’m focused on our last game. I’m aware they’re talking, but I’ll let them handle that for now.’’
Martin is on the cusp of finishing up his best season since 2012, when he ran for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 49 passes for 472 yards and one touchdown as a rookie.
This season, he has 273 carries for 1,354 yards (5.0 per carry) and six touchdowns, plus 26 receptions for 211 yards and one touchdown. He trails Vikings RB Adrian Peterson by 64 yards for the NFL’s rushing title, and would become the first Buccaneer to win a rushing title should he pass Peterson in Sunday’s game at Carolina.
Negotiations are said to be in the early stages, but Martin could command a contract similar to the five-year, $42-million deal DeMarco Murray signed with the Eagles in March.
Teach me, master
Bucs WR Vincent Jackson has done much more than just catch passes and score touchdowns during his four seasons with Tampa Bay. The 32-year-old veteran has also played a role in developing some of the team’s younger players, including rookie QB Jameis Winston.
“When you see Vincent come to work every day, you not only see a great man, but a man who loves his job and a man who knows how to do his job the right way,’’ Winston said. “It comes from taking care of his body, his stature and how he talks to another man and addresses his teammates.
“I’ve learned an awful lot from him, even about how to talk to defensive guys.’’
Winston said he doesn’t interact with defensive players as much as he does offensive players, so some players on defense might not know or understand his personality. Jackson, who was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury on Tuesday, taught him to get over that hurdle and still get his message across in a respectful and effective manner.
“It’s hard to talk to somebody on the other side of the ball because I might not see eye-to-eye all the time,’’ Winston said. “But Vincent has definitely helped me with that and, overall, with how to be a professional in this league.”
Just win baby
Wins by the Bucs and Cardinals on Sunday will keep the Panthers from becoming the top seed in the NFC playoffs, but that’s not part of Tampa Bay’s motivation to win the game, coach Lovie Smith said.
“That would be a bad reason to want to win a football game,’’ Smith said.
“We want to win a football game because we’ve lost three in a row and this is a division champ and we’re trying to gain on them. We need to win a football game, it’s as simple as that.’’
The Bucs on Friday placed S Chris Conte on injured reserve, meaning he will not play Sunday. Conte started 13 games at strong safety before missing last week’s game, finishing with 78 tackles, two interceptions, six pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
With COnte out, Keith Tandy could get a second straight start.
The Bucs promoted LB Darius Eubanks from the practice squad to to fill Conte’s roster spot.
Listed as probable for Sunday’s game were DL Da’Quan Bowers (personal reasons), FB Jorvorskie Lane (illness), DL William Gholston (hip), LG Logan Mankins (knee), CB Sterling Moore (ankle) and DL Kourtnei Brown (groin).
For the Panthers, RB Johnathan Stewart and RB Fozzy Whitaker were ruled out for Sunday’s game, while WR Ted Ginn Jr. and S Kurt Coleman were doubtful.