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Could Free Agency Bring a Wisconsin Homecoming?

Joe Schobert, a former pass rusher with the Badgers, has 380 tackles, seven forced fumbles and six interceptions the past three seasons for the Browns.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – At Waukesha West High School, Joe Schobert received exactly zero offers from FBS schools.

After an All-American senior season with Wisconsin in 2015 and a superlative final season with the Cleveland Browns in 2019, Schobert figures to be a hot commodity in free agency. In one of the worst-kept secrets in football, the Green Bay Packers are expected to make a push for Schobert to fill their gaping hole at inside linebacker.

Schobert made the transition from 3-4 outside linebacker at Wisconsin to off-the-ball linebacker with the Browns. In three seasons as a starter, Schobert recorded 380 tackles. Where he’s really emerged is as a coverage weapon. In 2019, he had four interceptions and nine passes defensed.

Team insiders consider Schobert the second-best off-the-ball linebacker in free agency behind only the Rams’ Cory Littleton.

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“Joe is a good player and an even better person,” Browns general manager Andrew Berry said at the Scouting Combine. “We are going to spend some time with his representation (Joe Panos of Athletes First) this week to talk through his contractual situation. He's obviously earned the right to test market if he deems that appropriate. But it’s one of those situations where we like Joe. It obviously has to work for both sides. It has to work for us from a cost perspective with our long-term roster strategy, and obviously it has to be a fit for Joe and his family, as well.”

Schobert and Blake Martinez were fourth-round picks in 2016. Schobert was the first pick of the round and No. 99 overall. Martinez was picked toward the end of the fourth round at No. 131 overall. Over the last three seasons, Martinez leads the NFL with 443 tackles and Schobert is fourth with 380 tackles. However, Schobert beat Martinez in interceptions (6-2), passes defensed (19-13) and forced fumbles (7-2).

Pro Football Focus projected Schobert receiving a four-year, $44 million contract.

The Packers have a huge hole at linebacker, with general manager Brian Gutekunst seeking an upgrade over Martinez, who set a franchise record with 203 tackles by the coaches’ count in 2019. Oren Burks, a third-round pick in 2018, has barely played due in part to back-to-back training camps ruined by injuries. Ty Summers, a seventh-round pick in 2019, didn’t play on defense but was a threat on special teams. Curtis Bolton, an undrafted free agent in 2019, was pushing for a roster spot in training camp before a season-ending knee injury.

“I think it’s a little bit of an evolving room right now,” Gutekunst said at the Combine. “I feel really good about Oren. He’s got to stay healthy, but I think he has all the talent in the world to be a productive player for us. I think Ty Summers did a really, really nice job, not only on special teams but how he developed as a linebacker as well. And then Curtis, obviously, he had the knee injury, so really we didn’t get a big opportunity to see him. Early on in training camp, he was making some big strides. So, I’m excited about those guys, but I think with Blake’s situation uncertain at the moment, it’s a little bit in flux as we go forward.”