ILB Blake Martinez
The New York Giants released linebackers Alec Ogletree and Kareem Martin on February 26th as a means of clearing cap space heading into the free agency period, leaving openings that the team needed to fill at the linebacker positions.
The Giants announced on March 17th that they had agreed to a contract with former Green Bay Packers linebacker Blake Martinez. The deal was a three-year deal worth $30.75 million with the 26-year old linebacker.
While Martinez has been lauded as a tackling machine, recording 144 total tackles in both 2017 and 2018 and 155 total tackles in 2019. While Martinez is a solid tackler, to say his coverage skills at the linebacker position are atrocious would be a serious understatement.
Last season Martinez allowed opposing receivers to catch passes on 62 of the 74 times that he was targeted. That is good for an 83.6% completion percentage that allowed receivers to amass 570 yards and two receiving touchdowns. In 2018, Martinez allowed 410 yards and five touchdowns to opposing receivers.
Simply put, Martinez is not a sideline-to-sideline style linebacker who can stay with opposing receivers and running backs. He stands only 6’2″ and weighs 235-pounds, so he is rather undersized at the linebacker position. Because of his smallish size, he often struggles to disengage from blocks. Additionally, he lacks the speed and athleticism to stay with running backs and wide receivers.
It will be imperative that the Giants find a linebacker with strong coverage skills to pair with Martinez at middle linebacker. This makes the idea of drafting Isaiah Simmons with the fourth pick out of Clemson University a tantalizing option, as it provides the Giants with a solid tackler with poor coverage skills with an elite cover linebacker in Simmons.
The current projection of Martinez and recently resigned David Mayo, who rivals the poor coverage skills of Martinez, as the middle linebackers in the Giants defense would be an unmitigated disaster with opposing quarterbacks picking the Giants apart in the middle of the field.
Despite concerns regarding his inability to cover opposing receivers, there are no concerns regarding the leadership skills and football intelligence of the former Stanford University star. Martinez has been the leader of the Green Bay defense, acting as the quarterback of the defense by calling plays and making the appropriate on-field adjustments for the Packers.
Additionally, new Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is intimately familiar with Martinez, having coached him in Green Bay where Graham served as the linebackers coach in 2018, which coincides with the best statistical year that Martinez put up in Green Bay.
The Giants hope that a new defensive scheme and the help of a stout interior defensive line allow the team to mask some of the deficiencies in the game of Martinez. Otherwise, Giants fans will need to get used to seeing Martinez make fundamentally sound tackles on opposing ball carriers just beyond the first down marker.
Cory Littleton, a superior linebacker with some of the best sideline-to-sideline coverage skills in the National Football League, signed with the Oakland Raiders on a three-year $36 million deal. It is difficult to fathom why the Giants didn’t opt to do whatever it took to sign Littleton over Martinez based on his athleticism and coverage abilities alone. This is especially true when taking into consideration that Littleton’s annual price tag was only $1.75 million more than Martinez.
Despite the fact that the New York Giants were unable to land the best free-agent linebacker available, the Blake Martinez signing should be an upgrade at the middle linebacker position for the GMEN. How much of an upgrade will likely depend on who the Giants are able to get to pair with Martinez.