Wait a minute. Hold on. Here I am, in the process of getting Green Bay’s quarterback situation resolved, and TP readers have all headed off to search for gold in the free agent market. Okay, I’ll put off my continuing series of QB posts for a few days.
At least the mob has a focus on what the Packers most urgently need to address by way of free agency (or contract retention). No, the focus is not on the status of Jimmy Graham – even his mama knows that he won’t be staying in Green Bay. Nor are the free agency zealots overly focused on wide receivers – the conventional wisdom seems to be that the college class of 2019 is so filled with future NFL All-Pro receivers Gutekunst will have plenty of prospects to pick from come draft time.
No, most of you have your sights on Blake Martinez’s replacement. Though my sentiments on the matter have been previously aired, I’ve listened to the critics, and I’m willing to grab a fresh legal pad and start over from scratch.
As a starter, can we agree that the most challenging position on an NFL roster is inside linebacker – which in Pettine’s predominant scheme, usually amounts to being a middle linebacker? He’s the one most responsible for curtailing the opponent’s run game. He’s also often a pass defender. He’s sometimes assigned to go man to man with a tight end or a slot receiver, or he shadows a running back who sets up for a screen pass, or he’s the guy assigned to spy on a mobile quarterback. He frequently acts as a zone defender for a receiver who enters the short or medium middle of the field. And when he’s not doing this or that, he’s expected to be a skilled blitzer and sack man.
If Green Bay is to achieve an upgrade by replacing Martinez, it had better be with a multi-talented and super-athletic guy.
In my mind, Job 1 for this jack-of-all-trades position is tackling. While I believe there has been a clear, and small, ILB top tier – namely Luke Kuechly (CAR), Bobby Wagner (SEA), and Blake – I’ve been in the minority. Let’s revisit the raw data now that another regular season is in the books.
From 2017 through 2019, Blake has accumulated 144, 144, and most recently 155 tackles. Here’s who the other NFL linebackers who’ve recorded 144 or more tackles in a season in that span of time: Wagner (159 in 2019), Kuechly (144 in 2019), the Cards’ Jordan Hicks (149 in 2019), the Ravens’ Darius Leonard (163 in 2018), the Bills’ Preston Brown (144 in 2017), and the Browns’ Joe Schobert (144 in 2017). In other words, only six other players have reached – and they’ve all done so just once – the milestone Blake has achieved in each of his last three years.
I think we can narrow the list of top ILBs a bit. On January 14, Kuechly announced his retirement after eight years in the trenches – it is believed that three serious concussions led to his decision.
Preston Brown peaked in 2017. Since then, the much-injured guy has recorded 42 tackles in 2018 and 53 in 2019. In a 6-year career, Brown has played for Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Oakland. In December, the Jaguars claimed him off waivers.
Jordan Hicks might also be a one-hit wonder. In his four years prior to 2019, he averaged only 63.5 tackles. He too has been much injured, missing seven games in 2017 and four more in 2018. After four years with the Eagles, Hicks was rewarded by the Cardinals in 2019 with a 4-year $36M contract – so he’s unavailable in any case.
Darius Leonard had that massive total of 163 tackles in his rookie year of 2018 – for which he was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and first team All Pro. The Colts expended the 36th overall pick to get such a player. This past season, however, he dropped back to 121 tackles. Early in 2019, he missed three-games with concussion-like symptoms. Still, the 24-year-old Leonard might well take Kuechly’s place in that ILB top tier. However, the Colts have him signed up through 2021.
Which brings us to Joe Schobert, who played for Wisconsin from 2012 through 2015. Though he’s been a quality player for the Browns for four years, in his other three campaigns he’s finished with only 133, 103, and 28 tackles. He started only four games in his rookie year, and he missed three games in 2018 with a hamstring injury. Schobert is set to become a free agent in March.
Before you advocate dumping Martinez, be reminded that available standout middle linebackers don’t grow on trees.
It’s apparent that ILBs are highly susceptible to injuries. Blake has never missed a pro game due to an injury, even after he fractured his hand in mid-season in 2019. On this basis alone, Gutekunst better think long and hard before he jettisons Martinez.
From all the chatter, you’d think Blake was an inferior athlete, and that he must have tortoise-like speed. Not sure of what I’d find, I did some NFL Combine searching.
Bobby Wagner, with his 4.46 dash time is in a league by himself. He would indeed be an upgrade, but the Packers won’t be getting him – in July he signed a 3-year $54M contract extension, making him the highest paid ILB in the league.
With Kuechly out of the picture, here are the dash times of the other top NFL tacklers: Hicks 4.68; Leonard 4.70; Martinez 4.71; Schobert 4.74; and Brown 4.86. At the 2016 NFL Combine, Blake’s dash time put him in the 65th percentile among ILBs. His 10-yard split, which is probably more meaningful, was 69th percentile. His agility scores (3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle) were in the 75th and 77th percentiles.
Rather than being inferior times, these number are well above average – and Blake, who just turned 26 in January, is just entering his peak performance years.
Sure I wish Blake was faster. And yes, I’ll grant you that his biggest weakness is pass protection. In fact, I think it’s unwise to have Blake out there on obvious passing downs. And yet he gets 99 percent of the defensive snaps, game after game and year after year. Let’s play to players’ strengths, not to their weaknesses. I’m in favor of Blake being (somewhat) platooned. It’s none other than Mike Pettine who talks about putting players in positions in which they are likely to have success.
The 2020 Draft
Rather than trying to research what ILB prospects there will be in the upcoming draft, and in which rounds, I’ll just fall back on GM Gutekunst’s foray in the 2018 draft. He selected Oren Burks in the third round, the 88th overall pick. Gutekunst viewed Burks as the perfect hybrid player who could defend the pass as well as he could stop the run. Gutekunst probably viewed Burks as an eventual upgrade to Martinez.
How has that worked out? In his second year, Burks was in on a total of 57 defensive snaps. In the postseason loss to the 49ers, Burks got no recorded stats in his three defensive plays. I hope that the Burks decision will be on Gutekunst’s mind when the draft is held in April. And even if the GM has his eyes on some new and promising ILB prospect, he’s bound to wonder how many years it might take for that player to become a force in the NFL. Re-signing a proven four-year vet poses no risk.
Who in the upcoming free agency pool would be an upgrade to Blake?
Well, nfltraderumors.com has only one ILB on its fifty top free agents list: Cory Littleton (LAR) is ranked 35th overall (regarless of position). Despite Cory going undrafted in 2016, I’m pretty impressed with his stats: 125 and 134 tackles in the last two years – though these are the only years he’s been a regular starter. He’s very similar to Blake in size, age, speed (4.73), and health. His career numbers, 26 passes defended, 6 interceptions, and 8.5 sacks, show some versatility, but aren’t eye-popping.
Bottom line: would a player like Littleton be an upgrade, and even if you think the two are roughly equivalent, would it justify parting ways with a guy who’s been an integral part of Pettine’s defense, and its defensive play-caller, for the last two years? We ought to have two legit ILBs on the field, – at least when we play teams like the Niners – why not try to have both Martinez and Littleton on the roster?
If there’s a more promising ILB scheduled to become a free agent, who would it be, and what would be the cost of getting him? I’ll be interested to see how much money Schobert and Martinez sign for in 2020. Martinez might well prove to be one of the biggest financial bargains in this draft.
The twin trouncings by the 49ers demonstrate that the Packers need a better run-stopping game plan and more and better run-stopping personnel. Isn’t it counterintuitive to want to get rid of the league’s most prolific tackler at such a time? My intuition is that we should try to find us the best possible ILB prospect, and have him play alongside Martinez in 2020. We usually need two true ILBs on the field, whereas we used only one for most of 2019. That’s an experiment that Pettine might want to abandon.
In 2016, Ted Thompson let Casey Hayward go. In 2017 he let Micah Hyde get away. In 2018, Gutekunst pulled the plug on Morgan Burnett. These were among the team’s surest tacklers – and they’ve all proved to have plenty of good years left in them. Will history repeat itself in 2020?
Does anyone on the Packers roster have a finer character than the former Stanford star? Is anyone a better and more selfless teammate? A natural leader? Smarter? One who’s been absolutely loyal to his team? Maybe such qualities should be viewed as essentials, not intangibles.
Gutekunst has been pretty quiet about his assessment of Martinez. I’m inclined to believe that when he sits down and factors everything in, he’ll want to retain Martinez on the roster. That doesn’t mean it will happen, however. Green Bay currently has a cap space of $29 million, a little under the average among NFL teams. If a team like the Bucs ($92M), Colts ($87M), or Dolphins ($87M) gets a hankering for Blake Martinez, then this whole topic becomes merely academic.
This team needs a veteran receiver, someone who you can plug and play, at least one. Sure…the draft will have plenty of future NFL receivers. But we learned from the last 4 or 5 years that relying on your draft picks to perform in their rookie season is for fools. Made even tougher when your picks weren’t very good to begin with. Matter of fact, i’d be good with a veteran receiver, and a tight end in the first round, if worthy of the pick. Good receivers, were taken down to round 3 last season, this season should be even deeper if you listen to the experts. With that said, Gute could continue the tradition of taking a defensive player first, idk.
Rob is quite the salesman, after hearing his presentation, i want to write a check for Martinez myself, although it would bounce faster than the Super Bowl dreams of a viking fan.
Just look at all the 1st and 2nd round picks spent on DB’s the last 5-6 years. All those DB’s and no wide receivers – middle linebacker.
Yea…it’s sad. Since Sam Shields left
Martinez’ tackle numbers are misleading. Most of them are arm tackles 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage. He usually takes indirect angles to the ball, and is not aggressive within three yards of the line of scrimmage. He frequently avoids putting a shoulder into someone, and ends up chasing them from behind with an arm tackle. He does not get off of blocks quickly, and generally is not very aggressive near the line of scrimmage. An upgrade at this position would be helpful. His stats are an example of how stats alone can be deceiving.
OK, Rob. You provided some context for the ILB situation. This is the position for which there are no surefire ways to get better at. Impact ILBs are gone by the time we pick, and if one of the teams you named wants to write Martinez a juicy check, we are out of the contention. Who’s next? Ty Summers and Oren Burks? Do we still have Grier Martini’s number? Not exactly big on Martinez, but there may be not immediate upgrades here.
DL is also rather tricky… DLs take time to adapt to the NFL, I’d say at least a season. Maybe a free agent is the way to go. But we need a run-stuffing DT, who are less pricey than their pass-rushing counterparts, assuming the recent resurgence of the run does not immediately drive prices up.
WR should be the easiest to upgrade. Draft two with the first two picks. As far as I’ve read, there are many talented WRs, and in general those guys shift well to the pros, provided there’s talent to begin with. Even if only one pans out, we would be set for what’s left of Rodgers’ years. Picking at no. 30 makes their contracts extra cheap, so, no risk but lots of upside.
OL and TE can also be addressed, but are less pressing. You can draft an OL to develop in the midrounds, but with TEs I am more inclined towards FA.
In short: ILB, keep Martinez if possible. WR, draft two. DT: find a run specialist in FA.
If Martinez is your high-water mark then the future looks bleak. I would bag two Free agent DTs/DEs at fair value. Draft an ILB in the third round. If they want Murray they will have to move up in the first. He’s not worth it. It seems the path has led back to Cory Littleton. Might as well go for it Gutekunst. Go outside the box of Ted.
DJ Reader, Javon Hargrave, and Mike Pennel could be good options for upgrading the DL at the right price.
I wish we hadn’t extended Lowery cause he hasn’t been playing to his pay level.
Anyone would be an upgrade over martinez. All those tackles he has made is 10 yards downfield. He cant cover anyone. Way too slow. Need to move on. Sime team will screw up and throw a ton of money at him anyways hust because of his tackling numbers.
Martinez is a good player, but do the Packers want to pay $10-15 million a year for a guy who any offensive coordinator with a good tight end will see as lunch meat? Or will the Packers look at the poor run defense this season and decide to spend money or high draft picks on a run stuffing lineman? My guess is they are going to make getting a defensive lineman a higher priority than signing Martinez, in typical Packer fashion. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Packers use their first pick for a nose-tackle type and let Martinez walk, thinking the problem is up front, which will basically infuriate Packers’ nation hoping for a wide receiver.
Oren Burks was drafted at pick 88 and also cost the team pick 145. That sticks in my mind. He has yet to live up to that and maybe he will. It took Fackrell three years to see meaningful snaps and results and he was a third rounder too. But he didn’t cost two selections, he was just picked too high.
I really like Martinez also. I don’t think he is the absolute liability some do, but I don’t think he is a unicorn either. He’s above average good, very smart, and solid team player with more upside than not. Let him test the market and if someone wants to wildly overpay then so be it.
What would be a right price deal to keep him here?
“Let him test the market and if someone wants to wildly overpay then so be it.”
^The voice of reason^
It’s that simple.
We can’t keep giving players more money than they deserve, it’s one reason were in the mess we’re in. The other reason is failed drafts, you don’t pay for a bad draft the year they are drafted, but years of bad drafts catches up to a team. Welcome to the Green Bay Packers.
Free agents are nice, but if you want premium players, you pay a premium price. But sometimes you (Packers) pay a premium price but don’t get a premium player. Which they seem fine with…i guess.
You have to start hitting in the draft…2 years ago. Each year that goes by, is another lost year. Haven’t we had enough of those the last 8 years.
Lets draft players that can contribute. Who TF is Oren Burks? Who TF is Josh Jackson? I could go down a list….We got 1 pick out of the 2018 draft? knock it off!!
We were in the NFCCG, The 9ers showed us for a 2nd time we were clearly in over our heads. We got exposed. I don’t want to see the #12 pick sitting on the fucking bench!!!!
Gute might get credit for the Smith Brothers, and that’s fine, They played well, and they had better play well for what they were payed, (not that they could get off their blocks to stop the run), BUT….that doesn’t give Gute a pass on everything else. the honeymoon is over. Maybe it’s time for a quality draft.
I feel better :)
Yeah, they have no excuses this year for keeping Gary off the field. If they do it will be a wasted pick IMO.
Most ignorant football article ever. Dude., do you even watch the games? Watch the SF game again and how it takes FOREVER for Blake to diagnose the play. Only a moron believes a tackle 5-7 yds past the LOS means anything. How many TFL does Blake have? How many forced fumbles? Worst MLB in football. Can’t tackle at the LOS, can’t cover a grandma. Totally useless.
You might want to do some research where Martinez ranks on making plays around the LOS. Far from the worst in football.
Tackles for loss? Okay, Luke Kuechley, the greatest middle linebacker of his generation, just wound up an 8-year career with 75 TFLs, or 9.4 per year. Luke has three times had years of 10 or more TFLs. In his 8 years in the NFL Bobby Wagner has 58 tackles for loss, or 7.25 per season. He’s had two years of 10 or more tackles (10 and 13). Blake, in only four years, has 29 TFLs, or 7.25 per year; he’s had two years of 10 TFLs. I’ve never said Blake was better than these perennial All Pro’s, but he’s statistically in their vicinity, and he’s way above average in comparison to most ILBs. Who’s a clear and no-risk upgrade?
It could be that the market for Martinez won’t be outrageous. I think he’ll sign in the $12 million a year range which would likely be out of the Packers range. However, teams pay for defensive ends and outside linebackers. The Jets paid $17 million a year for CJ Mosely and he immediately got injured and played very little this season. Teams may not want to overpay for an inside linebacker because of this.
Just lost a bit of respect for PFF. A guy from PFF being interviewed at the SB. Asked to explain Rodgers numbers decline. He goes on to talk about…he’s getting old, he’s in a rut, he doesn’t take chances, etc. NEVER brings up the receivers.
Then…..he’s asked about the receiver talent after Adams and how it effects his numbers. Only then he concedes that’s a big part of it.
So….why didn’t he mention that initially? C’MON MAN!!
How about you consider the continuum between the two explanations, as opposed to either this one or that one. You can plenty of examples to back both, Rodgers’ decline and the WRs’.
Here…let me help…..lets leave the $20 words to non football blogs. My 7th grade education only takes me so far.
My contention (point)…….was….this lord genius of grading players, didn’t mention Rodgers biggest obstacle.
Then….when asked about it….he says….oh yea, that too.
Remember A.J Hawk? A disaster, for how long, about 10 years. Martinez is much better, but could use some extra help on 3rd down plays. Too bad we lost Micah Hyde.
I hope he doesn’t get dragged down by the curse of #50.
Speaking of curses. How about Brad Jones being the Packer that announced Oren Burks as the Packers pick in 2018.
Rob, the reason Burks had no stats on three defensive snaps in the NFCCG… Burks only snaps on defense were on the three kneel downs by the 49ers at games end. Same is true of Gary’s three defensive snaps.
I don’t know, my memory isn’t what it used to be, but i thought AJ Hawk did a hell of a job in 2010 being thrust in a leadership role.
I don’t know if you meant that for Jeff, MJ, or me? If you meant it for me I have nothing negative to say about A.J. Brad Jones is another story.
In fact 2010 is a very good example of why you need two good ILBs and three big butts on the defensive line for the 3-4 to work against the run.
You didn’t speak of AJ, so….
I know I didn’t mention A.J., that is why I asked if your RESPONSE to ME about AJ was meant for someone else who did mention A.J? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Yep. No reason to be so harsh to AJ Hawk. He was very a consistent tackler in the backfield. Defensive backfield, that is.
All kidding aside, I joined the party in 2012, so if AJ had already provided a couple of good years, then he was not a completely failed pick. The issue back then was with Ted holding on to his players for longer than he should have, and directly or indirectly forcing coaches to play those players. I clearly remember the ILB coach back then saying “as far as I am concerned, Brad Jones is my starter”, as in “I have to play the guy that just got extended”.
To be fair to AJ, his draft status worked against him, as more is expected of a 1st rdr. While underperforming for that status, if he gave two years of good play, the pick already yielded some value, even if not matching the expectations. My other example is Eddie Lacy. He tore it out in 2013 and 2014, only to eat his way out of the league with his performance in 2015 and 2016, essentially being very good player on the cheap for two seasons. Heck, he even messed with SEA’s salary cap a little, as they paid him 5M to warm the bench. That’s some nice collateral damage to me.
” Playing Martinez as the sole middle linebacker most of the time might be something Pettine may want to change.”
I went ballistic after the rashan Gary pic and I go even more ballistic when shit birds defend him. I dont give a fuck how he did at the combine…
Yea, somebody here said they need to get him on the field or he was wasted pick, which is absolutely correct. I’d rank that move right up there next to the Jordy move as the worst. A tie.
It’s one thing to draft him #12. But before the draft he signed 2 OLB which were going to be starters no matter what, barring injury. It just…..makes you wonder.
I guess Hawk’s draft status worked against him….but. How many #1 picks were bust, how many #2 picks have been bust?
I mean fuck….at least he contributed and played, well enough to stick around 9 years. When we can stop whiffing on draft picks, i’ll get on board the AJ Hawk bashing train.
How many players from the 2018 draft contribute to the team? Pretty f….ing sad amirite. Then we’re bad enough to get the #12 pick in 2019….well, you know the story.
I guess what i’m trying to say in a nice way….looking at the big picture. People need to stfu about Hawk. Here’s what he was….a football player. This team has bigger problems than AJ Hawk.
First, he didn’t play “well enough to stay for 9 years”. He was unduly kept for that long. As Ted liked to do with his guys, and following suit with “see? We kept X, and Y, who we ourselves drafted; we are a successful draft-and-develop team”.
And no, no one is taking anything from the fact that most of the 2018 was mostly a failure. At least Gute is willing to cut bait and admit his own mistakes.
It’s too early to judge Gary’s development. Yes, in principle he should have been contributing. What if he turns it around in 2020, 2021 and 2022? He is a pass rusher! The ones transitioning right away from college to the NFL are the exception, not the norm. Can’t really tell he will, but I am keeping some cautious optimism.
Regarding the very last statement… “people should stfu about AJ Hawk”. Well, I must have missed when you purchased the domain from Jason.
It’s an opinion…”people should…..”
I don’t have to purchase anything to express an opinion, on an opinion blog.
Thank you for understanding.
Ya Packer Fan for Life – Many of us Fans don’t seem to have a firm understanding of the % of draft picks that bust, are average, excel and are HOF. I did an research paper years ago for an advanced stats class comparing the packer drafts to the bears over x amount of years. T – I graded a few others for fun there’s very little deviation from the norm across those teams. Some years better than others but usually with similar success. The Correlation I remember had to do with where in the draft order you picked. Look at SF they sucked for so long they were able to accumulate high level 1st second and 3rd round picks… They had plenty of flops themselves but enough hit to make them what they are now. Lets see what happens when they all start hitting their 1st contracts..
AJ Hawk or my guy Haloti Ngata in the 2006 draft as the decibel chatter still rings in the eardrums as we peon,draftniks screamed for the Big DT ? He just retired in 2018…5-6 ALL PRO designations playing for the Crows. Nice call, Ted.
Talk about twisting stats to fit a narrative. What Blake MArtinez did better than any of those studs you compared him to was – stay healthy and was on the field. That’s important and deserves consideration. Go back and do your stats with per snap ratio’s. 40 time at the combine is great, doesn’t mean that’s his speed on the field 4 years later….just watch him. Plus he is so slow to read and react, gets shoved around by blockers, not just linemen, horrendous in coverage. The defense is set-up for him to make all these tackles so it;s also has to do with the system. He’s not getting 16mil. Most analysts have seen his flaws and how the tackles are inflated. “As a starter, can we agree that the most challenging position on an NFL roster is inside linebacker” What? Of course it’s QB, TE takes years of development as well. I’ve never heard that ILB was.. Maybe it’s up there. I’m not looking forward to having a 1st year ILB starting if if its. Murray or Queen….Are you BM agent by chance? I’ll go along with average to above average due to his generalship and Health. His play (one of the worst against the pass and not that good against the run either. Yes, he has lots of tackles, that’s what happens when you give up 10 completions a game and then tackle them 6 of those time. Opportunities doesn’t relate to performance.
In my opinion Martinez is no where near as bad as some people think.
He’s a great blitzer, and has in past years been “OK” in both coverage and run stopping.
But sportrac has him getting $16 million a season, and for that kind of money I would rather pick up Nick Kwiatkoski or Sean Lee, and sign either DJ Reader, or Javon Hargrave.
Because the DL outside of Kenny Clark was terrible.
Pffs 15 worst graded packers included 3 packer DL men Adam, Lancaster and Lowry.
Without any gaps to run through I don’t see any LB, outside of a transcendent player like Wagner having great production on this team next year.
DJ Reader and Javon Hargrave are both great run stuffers and pass rushers. So in my opinion pairing one of them with a cheaper but solid free agent LB makes a lot of sense.
I also am rather interested in Logan Wilson LB out of Wyoming as a possible mid round option to help at LB.