INDIANAPOLIS — Buccaneers running back Doug Martin has made no secret of his desire to sign a new contract that will allow him to return to Tampa Bay for the 2016 season and beyond.
But as contract negotiations between the would-be free agent and the Bucs drag on, the chances of the two-time Pro Bowler getting his wish appear to be declining.
Based on the current pace and direction of the talks, Martin is more likely to sign a deal with one of a handful of Bucs rivals than with Tampa Bay, sources close to the negotiations said Thursday.
The news comes just a day after Bucs general manager Jason Licht said he was optimistic about re-signing Martin ahead of a planned meeting with Martin’s representatives at the scouting combine.
“We’ve got a couple of things going for us here on that one,’’ Licht said. “I know (Martin) wants to be a Buc and I know that we want him to be a Buc.
“I’m sure there will be some obstacles. There always are in negotiations. But we’ll prepare for either way. I’m optimistic and we’ll continue talking with him.”
The source did not say negotiations had stalled, and with nearly two weeks to go before the start of the free-agency signing period there is still plenty of time for the two sides to find common ground.
As it stands now, though, Martin almost certainly will seek to test the market to see what kind of a deal he can get elsewhere. The Bucs, though, do have the power to stop Martin from leaving.
Licht has not spoken publicly about it, but he has until 4 p.m. Tuesday to slap Martin with the franchise tag, which would tie the running back to the Bucs for the 2016 season. That’s a pricey option, though.
By applying the “exclusive’’ franchise tag the Bucs would commit themselves to paying Martin a one-year salary equal to no less than the average of the top five salaries at his position, which would be about $11.5 million.
By applying the “non-exclusive’’ tag, the Bucs would commit themselves to paying Martin a salary worth no less than the average of the top five cap hits of the players at his position over the previous five years.