The New York Giants signed linebacker Blake Martinez to a rich free agent contract a year ago to be both a quarterback and play-maker in the middle of their defense.
Let’s look at how well Martinez accomplished both of those tasks last season as we continue profiling the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.
Position: Inside linebacker
Contract: Year 2 of three-year, $30.75 million contract | Guaranteed at signing: $19 million | 2021 cap hit: $6.725 million
Career to date
Martinez was a good player for the Green Bay Packers. He led the league in tackles in 2018 with 144, and had at least that many tackles in each of his three seasons before coming to New York.
There were, however, some perceived issues with his play.
Some considered Martinez a tackle compiler and not necessarily an impact front seven defender. Sharp Football Analysis showed that while Martinez made 21 more tackles than expected vs. the run in 2019, those tackles were coming farther downfield than other high-tackle inside linebackers. Only five of Martinez’s 155 tackles in 2019 went for a loss and Pro Football Focus showed that Martinez’s average tackle depth of 4.7 yards was just 49th among 60 qualifying inside linebackers. Sharp actually graded Martinez as a -7 in points saved vs. the run for the Packers in 2019.
Pass defense and missed tackles were also areas of concern. Martinez surrendered passer ratings against of 118.9 in 2018 and 102.1 in 2019, and some felt he would be a liability in New York as a three-down linebacker. He also missed 18 tackles (10.4 percent) in 2019.
Martinez came to the Giants believing that many of those issues were because of how he was used by the Packers, and determined to prove the doubters wrong.
Martinez made his usual number of tackles, finishing fourth in the league with 151. He cut his missed tackle rate to 6.4 percent, missing only 10 tackles on the season. He was solid in pass coverage, posting an excellent 89.8 passer rating against while mostly patrolling zones in the short areas of the field. His run stop percentage (tackles resulting in failed offensive plays) rose from 8.1 to 8.9 percent. His average depth of tackle declined to 4.0 yards, still only 26th among 52 qualifying linebackers, but a big improvement.
So, mission accomplished for Martinez in a successful first season with the Giants.
There is no reason to think Martinez won’t have another excellent season, that he won’t continue to be the glue for the defense in the huddle and in the middle of the field. Martinez will almost certainly be the one linebacker who rarely comes off the field. The one thing that will be interesting, should the Giants as expected play more man-to-man defense, is how well Martinez holds up in those coverage situations.