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Grading on Salary-Cap Curve: Inside Linebackers

Blake Martinez set a franchise record in tackles but do those hold up under scrutiny?

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Player grades have long been a staple of postseason analysis. Ours are different. So much of building a team is doing it within the constraints of the salary cap. Teams need their big-money players to come up big and some bargain players to outplay their contracts. Thus, our annual grades are done on a salary-cap curve.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

BLAKE MARTINEZ

Cap: $2,120,848 (55th among off-the-ball linebackers, according to OverTheCap.com)

Season: Martinez collected a team-record 203 tackles, by the coaches’ count. Having played 1,024 snaps, that equates to 5.04 snaps per tackle. Not bad for a guy who played through a broken hand for the second half of the season. By the official league stats, Martinez recorded 155 tackles. That was second in the league behind only Seattle’s Bobby Wagner (159), marking the third consecutive year Martinez finished first or second. He added three sacks, five tackles for losses, one forced fumble and one interception. According to Sports Info Solutions, Martinez’s average tackle occurred 4.7 yards downfield and he missed 17 tackles for a missed-tackle rate of 9.9 percent. Of the 31 linebackers who recorded at least 100 tackles, Martinez ranked 19th in tackle depth and 17th in missed-tackle percentage.

The criticism that too many of Martinez’s tackles came too far downfield just doesn’t hold a lot of water. On one hand, he had 10 stuffs, which is a tackle at or behind the line vs. the run. That tied for 23rd among all linebackers and was miles behind the linebacker pace-setter Tremaine Edmunds’ 20. On the other hand, Pro Football Focus has a metric called run-stop percentage. A run stop essentially is an impact tackle, such as a first-and-10 tackle that holds the play to 3 yards or less and any third-down tackle that holds the play short of the first down. Of 60 off-the-ball linebackers with at least 50 percent playing time, Martinez ranked fourth with 37 run stops (just behind Luke Kuechly’s 38 and Wagner’s 39) and 15th in run-stop percentage. On tackles of 2 or 3 yards, Martinez tied for fourth among linebackers; on tackles of 3 or 4 yards, Martinez was first among all players.

As for his pending free agency, his lack of athleticism was glaring in the NFC Championship Game and he is a nonfactor in the passing game. Despite being an every-down linebacker, he broke up a career-worst two passes. According to Pro Football Focus, Martinez gave up 58-of-69 passing (84.1 percent). That’s tied for the eighth-most completions among off-the-ball linebackers but was 13th best with 0.88 yards per coverage snap. Clearly, the Packers need better but remember the premise of this annual series. It’s production vs. the salary cap. With that, Martinez provided a lot of bang for the buck.

Grade: B.

OREN BURKS

Cap: $836,689 (82nd at position)

Season: The Packers traded fourth- and fifth-round picks to grab Burks toward the end of the third round in 2018. Given his size (6-foot-3) and coverage experience (a former safety at Vanderbilt), they certainly expected him to be a starter by now. Instead, due in part to injuries suffered the past two Augusts, Burks has been practically a nonfactor. He actually was even a bigger nonfactor this year, going from 122 snaps and 24 tackles as a rookie to 57 snaps and six tackles in his second year. This year, using the coaches’ stats, he had eight tackles, good for a rate of 7.13 snaps per tackle. He tied for the team lead with nine tackles on special teams. According to Sports Info Solutions, Burks’ average tackle occurred 2.4 yards downfield. In two seasons, he has zero forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, interceptions or passes defensed. Maybe Burks can get through training camp unscathed and be a contributor next season. Or, maybe it will be time to move on.

Grade: D.

B.J. GOODSON

Cap: $720,000 (97th at position)

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Season: With the injury to Burks, the Packers acquired Goodson just days before the start of the regular season. Because defensive coordinator Mike Pettine likes his dime packages so much, Goodson was a starter in name only. When he played, he was active if not ultraproductive. Goodson recorded 45 tackles in 254 defensive snaps, good for a rate of 5.64 snaps per tackle. According to Sports Info Solutions, Goodson’s average tackle occurred 4.7 yards downfield. In PFF’s run-stop percentage, Goodson ranked 64th of 80 off-the-ball linebackers who played at least 140 run-defending snaps. He missed just one tackle in the regular season. Goodson had zero forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, interceptions or passes defensed.

Grade: C.

TY SUMMERS

Cap: $519,476 (151st at position)

Season: A seventh-round pick, Summers didn’t play a single snap on defense but did play a team-high 311 snaps on special teams. With that, he tied for third on the team with seven tackles on the coverage units. Depending on the free-agent futures of Martinez and Goodson. the door will be open for a wider role. If nothing else, a seventh-round pick for a solid special-teams performer is good value.

Grade: C.

Grading the Packers Series

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Tight ends

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Defensive line

Outside linebackers

Inside linebackers