Should Packers Target Browns Star Linebacker in 2020 Free Agency?

Joe Schobert Packers Free Agency

Getty Joe Schobert #53 of the Cleveland Browns walks off the field with the ball after his second interception of the game in the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland defeated Miami 41-24.

Much is up in the air right now with the Cleveland Browns, and that includes the future of linebacker Joe Schobert.

Should that pique the interest of the Green Bay Packers?

Decisions will be made this upcoming offseason regarding the Packers’ group of inside linebackers with defensive signal-caller Blake Martinez and B.J. Goodson both set to become unrestricted free agents. While a recent change to Aaron Rodgers’ contract helped the Packers free up some spending power to re-sign some important talent, they could just as easily use some of it to pursue another valuable free agent on the market.

Schobert played every defensive snap except for seven this season for the Browns, finishing as one of this season’s best middle linebackers with a team-high 133 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He is also a proven playmaker in coverage and at the line of scrimmage, areas where Martinez has lacked during his four seasons with the Packers.

The Packers were highly successful with their free-agent acquisitions from last year’s offseason, adding two of the league’s best pass rushers, a stable interior lineman and an experienced safety to their arsenal and winning 13 of their 16 games to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. They have also remained active and effective on the waiver wires throughout the season with return specialist Tyler Ervin and veteran offensive tackle Jared Veldheer offering necessary boosts.

Another big-time move to boost the inside linebacker position could take the defense to a new level.

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How Do Martinez and Schobert Compare?

Martinez was a tackling monster during the regular season for the Packers and constantly touted one of the highest tackle totals in the NFL, finishing with a second-most 155 just four behind Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner. According to the Packers’ in-house tally, though, he finished with much more than that and broke the single-season franchise record with 203 total tackles on the year.

And yet, Martinez is one of the most polarizing players on the Packers’ roster when it comes to the fanbase. He is often criticized for lacking speed and athleticism in pass coverage and making too few plays at the line of scrimmage or in opposing backfields, which limits how he can be deployed in the Packers defensive scheme.

Martinez does have durability going for him as he played in every game for a third straight season despite fracturing his hand and needed a club for several games, but both he and Schobert have played the same number of games (61) in their careers. Schobert took longer to earn his starting role and did miss three games in 2018 with a hamstring injury, but his impact is also easier to measure.

Schobert has forced at least two fumbles in each of his last three seasons while Martinez, by comparison, has just two forced fumbles total in his career. The Packers linebacker has also gained no positive yardage on either of his two career fumble recoveries, while Schobert has taken his three for a collective 73 yards. His four interceptions this year are also one more than Martinez’s career total.

Martinez holds an advantage when it comes to tackles for loss (29) and quarterback hits (12), but not when looking exclusively at the most recent season. Of course, some of the Martinez’s shortcomings in that department are a direct result of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith being the featured parts of the Packers’ pass rush.

While not something that swings decisions, Schobert is also well acquainted with Wisconsin after growing up in Waukesha and playing four seasons for the Badgers. During his senior season in 2015,  he was named a first-team All-American as well as the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year.

Martinez Projects for High Price Tag, as Does Schobert

Though there are certainly valid criticisms of his play, Martinez seems likely to fetch a high price for his next NFL contract with some projecting he could command as much as $10 million per year, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Stronger play down the stretch helped drive the price up, and he could strengthen his case with some impact plays for the Packers in a postseason full of possibilities.

The same can be expected for Schobert, who could potentially earn even more with a better playmaking prowess than his Packers counterpart. Both linebackers were drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft — Schobert at No. 99 overall, Martinez at No. 133 — and signed similar four-year deals with their respective teams with the Browns paying about $250,000 more their inside stud.

The Packers should have roughly $31.79 million of cap space with which to work for the upcoming offseason, which is substantially lower than the Browns’ $52.16 million and seems even smaller when you consider some of their other high-priority players due for new contracts, including Bryan Bulaga, Mason Crosby and Tramon Williams. Still, Green Bay will have to address its inside linebacker group with the reserves not showing enough potential to fill a void without a Martinez/Schobert-type.

Schobert hasn’t received a contract offer yet from the Browns, who will expectedly hire a new GM and head coach before deciding what to do about their pending free agents. Should the new regime like other options, the Browns linebacker could be looking for a new home away from Cleveland as one of the best linebacker prospects on the market.

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