GREEN BAY, Wis. – Free-agent linebacker Blake Martinez, who set the Green Bay Packers’ franchise record for tackles last season, agreed to sign with the New York Giants late Monday night.
The deal reportedly is for three years and $30 million. The Packers, having added veteran Christian Kirksey earlier in the day and with a desire to get faster in the middle, let him go without a fight.
For now, the loss of Martinez might get the Packers a fourth-round compensatory pick in the 2021 draft.
After leading the NFL in tackles in 2017 and ranking second in 2008, Martinez finished second in the league with a career-high 155 tackles in 2019. The coaches’ count was a record 201. He did it while playing the second half of the season with a broken hand. He added three sacks, five tackles for losses, one forced fumble and a key interception in the come-from-behind win at Detroit. Over the last four seasons, Martinez’s 512 tackles trails only Bobby Wagner’s 597. In the 2016 draft class, Martinez has 103 more tackles than anyone else.
“It’s been a tough year from that aspect, of understanding it could be my last one with the Packers,” Martinez said at the end of the season. “I put a lot into this year, whether it was the offseason, OTAs, fall camp – everything. It was a great group of guys to be a part of. It was a special year to me. I’ll look back at this as one of the most fun years I’ve had on a football team, and then the uncertainty of what’s going to happen next.”
There’s uncertainty for the Packers without Martinez. Kirksey has played only nine games the past two seasons due to injuries, former third-round pick Oren Burks has made almost zero impact in his first two seasons due in part to training camp injuries. B.J. Goodson, who was acquired from the Giants before last season, is a free agent, as well. Last year’s seventh-round pick, Ty Summers, didn’t play on defense, though he had solid production on special teams. Cory Littleton, the top free agent at the position, remained available as of Tuesday morning. So did Joe Schobert and De'Vondre Campbell, though Nick Kwiatkowski left Chicago to sign with Las Vegas and Jamie Collins went from New England to Detroit.
Martinez maximized his athletic tools to become a productive three-year starter and key communicator on the defense. In 2019, Martinez ranked fourth in the NFL with 37 run stops, a Pro Football Focus metric that measures impact tackles. (A first-and-10 tackle that limits the play to 3 yards or less is a stop, for instance.) Among the 60 off-the-ball linebackers to play 50 percent of the run snaps, Martinez ranked 15th in run-stop percentage, so it’s not as if every tackle was made 5 yards downfield, which became a common critique.
“My tape will speak for itself,” he said when asked about free agency at the end of the season. “I did a lot of great things individually, made a lot of tackles, made a lot of plays. Was kind of the general of the defense – called the plays, made a lot of checks, did everything necessary to help the team. Whatever ends up happening for me will end up happening.”
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However, it’s undeniable the Packers need better in the middle. General manager Brian Gutekunst matter-of-factly said “yeah, no doubt” when asked if getting faster at that spot would be key in the offseason. On Raheem Mostert’s 9-yard touchdown run in the NFC Championship Game, Martinez was unblocked and had a path to drop Mostert at the line of scrimmage. Instead, Mostert beat him to the corner and scored. He had just five tackles for losses in 2019 (down from 10 in 2017 and 2018) and two passes defensed (down from eight in 2017).