Former fourth-round pick Blake Martinez far exceeds expectations
Tenth in a series on the Packers' unrestricted free agents and their likelihood of remaining with the team.
GREEN BAY - Standing next to his locker inside Levi’s Stadium, the tears said it all.
The Green Bay Packers had just lost to the San Francisco 49ers 37-20 in the NFC championship game, but the result wasn’t what drew such raw emotion. No, Blake Martinez was speaking about his future – or, perhaps his lack of one – with the only team that drafted him. In that moment, the likelihood he’d just played his final game with the Packers wasn’t lost on him.
For four years, Martinez has been a success story for the Packers, one of the few in former general manager Ted Thompson’s late draft classes. The former fourth-round pick has played 51 straight regular-season games. He has ranked among the defense’s top three in snaps for three straight seasons. He has ranked among the NFL’s top three in tackles each of the past three years. Since 2017, Martinez’s 441 tackles are the most in the league.
So the idea Martinez has somehow disappointed in his tenure with the Packers doesn’t hold water. For the 2016 draft’s 131st overall pick, the Packers couldn’t have asked for much more production.
Which is why the Packers are unlikely to re-sign Martinez this spring. As a free agent, Martinez could garner an annual salary between $8 and $10 million, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the inside linebacker market. Martinez, for all his deficiencies, vastly outplayed his draft stock.
Here’s a look inside the Packers’ decision on Martinez:
Age next season: 26.
Initially acquired: Drafted fourth round, 131st overall pick in 2016.
Stats: 155 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 2 defended passes.
Argument for: Martinez is an ideal fit for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s system. Pettine prefers his defensive linemen to consume blockers, allowing his inside linebackers to roam the second level freely, clearing lanes to make tackles. Martinez’s job was to be a tackling machine, and there no question he filled that role. He also became the defense’s quarterback, tasked with organizing pre-snap communication and ensuring each of his 10 teammates were on the same page. Martinez’s in-depth knowledge of Pettine’s system will be difficult to duplicate. It’s fair to wonder how losing Martinez might stunt the defense’s schematic growth entering its third year with Pettine. Then there’s the overall depth chart as a whole. If Martinez signs elsewhere, the Packers will be down to two inside linebackers under contract: Oren Burks and Ty Summers. That’s a startling lack of experience, especially considering this position was already a weakness in the defense. The Packers need more inside linebackers, not fewer. Hard to see any benefit to losing Martinez.
Argument against: As always, follow the money. The Packers have a lot of roster needs, and shelling out close to $10 million annually on an inside linebacker isn’t the most fiscally responsible thing to do. Martinez has also shown a ceiling for his development. In four years, he has been little more than a tackles machine. If Martinez reaches $10 million annually, he’ll be the 11th inside linebacker across the league to earn that figure. His seven turnover opportunities created (three interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered) are behind Bobby Wagner’s 13, C.J. Mosley’s 15, Deion Jones’ 12, Jaylon Smith’s 10 (in three seasons), Luke Kuechly’s 15, Lavonte David’s 25 and Eric Kendricks’ 12. Of those 11 inside linebackers, only Myles Jack (six), Shaq Thompson (five) and Benardrick McKinney (seven) don’t have more than Martinez, but each is considered far superior in coverage.
Quotables: “It’s up in the air. You never know what’s going to happen. Obviously, it’s kind of a waiting game to see what they want to do, what certain situations – obviously, free agency, things like that. but, yeah. Obviously, I’d love to be back. I love this place. Whatever they want to get done, they want to get done.” – Blake Martinez