The Green Bay Packers will have a lot of deciding to do this offseason with 22 players set to become free agents for the 2020 season, but no position seems more destined for a change than their inside linebacker group.
The Packers’ two most veteran options on the inside — Blake Martinez and B.J. Goodson — both have contracts that will expire at the end of the season for a defense that underwent several major renovations last offseason. That would leave backup Oren Burks and rookie Ty Summers, who are both signed through at least 2022 but have seen limited snaps this season.
While Martinez might seem like a sure-thing as the Packers’ defensive signal-caller and the NFL’s current second-leading tackler (102), his strong season will likely drive up the cost of a new contract that was already estimated to run at least $8 million per year. Teams with deeper pockets and a greater desire to spend could outbid the Packers and whisk away the playmaking inside linebacker.
General manager Brian Gutekunst proved he was willing to spend big on playmakers when he brought in safety Adrian Amos and pass-rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith last offseason, but does that mean he and the Packers are prioritizing Martinez for 2020 free agency?
Let’s take a closer look at some of the factors that could influence their decision.
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Martinez Could Cost Up to 8 Figures
According to Green Bay Press-Gazette reporter Ryan Wood, Martinez could command as much as $10 million per year when he seeks his next deal with the highly-productive linebacker also benefitting from his youth and durability.
The latter was recently put on display when Martinez persisted through a fracture in his right hand and played wearing a club for a few games leading up to the Week 11 bye. It kept alive his ongoing streak of 42 consecutive starts that began with 2017’s season opener, while his tackling production was mostly unaffected with 26 combined over the last three games.
A consistently high tackles tally, though, sometimes distracts from shortcomings in Martinez’s game for the Packers, as several NFL writers have pointed out throughout the 2019 season. Longtime Packers beat writer Bob McGinn criticized his speed and instincts in an assessment for The Athletic, saying Martinez “gets people down, but not where a good defense needs them down.”
“In coverage, his play is equally ineffectual,” McGinn wrote after the Packers’ 26-11 road loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. “He drifts, he’s a limited athlete and he’s slow. Maybe the coaches think command of the defense makes him untouchable. If not, Goodson, Burks and rookie Ty Summers all are available.”
Other Costs Could Force Packers’ Hand
Even if the Packers wanted to re-sign Martinez, they might not have the luxury. There are a number of other notables set to become free agents in 2020, including right tackle Bryan Bulaga, outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell and wide receivers Geronimo Allison and Allen Lazard.
It would also be reasonable to expect the Packers to sign at least one extension with a player not currently in a contract year, as Kenny Clark, David Bakhtiari, Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Corey Linsley, Mason Crosby and Kevin King are all nearing the end of deals that expire in 2021.
Goodson would be a more affordable choice at inside linebacker, but the Packers hesitation to use him — or anyone aside from Martinez for that matter — makes it difficult to deduce what the team makes of his abilities. It seems unlikely, too, the Packers would re-sign both Martinez and Goodson, who was traded from the New York Giants before the start of the 2019 season to fill a need after Burks suffered a chest injury.
Watch the Packers inside linebackers closely for the rest of the season, as down-the-stretch play could make or break futures in Green Bay.