The Green Bay Packers have been asking about a number of the top NFL free agents on the market this offseason, but one of them evidently has made a bigger impression than others.
Per to Sports Illustrated’s Bill Huber, the Packers are considering Los Angeles Rams linebacker Cory Littleton their “top priority” in free agency, signaling general manager Brian Gutekunst is prepared to make waves once again this offseason to address the defense’s biggest area of need.
Littleton, 26, is considered one of the best free-agent linebackers available this offseason and would make for a significant change to the Packers’ inside linebacker personnel if added to the 2020 roster. It would also mean the Packers would be moving on from current starter Blake Martinez, who is also set to become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins on March 18.
The Packers have also been considering Chicago’s Nick Kwiatkoski and Cleveland’s Joe Schobert as potential fits for their system, according to multiple reports; though, Huber was clear Littleton is the team’s No. 1 priority even as one of the higher-priced linebackers on the market.
Littleton has climbed the NFL ranks from undrafted free agent to a high-demand linebacker in four seasons with the Rams, tallying 259 tackles, five interceptions and 22 pass deflections in his past two seasons alone while starting every game. As Huber warns, though, the Packers might not be able to afford him with an NFL executive suggesting Littleton could earn more than $13 million per season on his next deal.
The Packers have less spending power this offseason but could make a few cost-saving roster cuts to push their cap space to roughly $30 million. Nevertheless, they have more than a dozen free agents to consider re-signing and other areas of need to potentially address through free agency.
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Littleton Would Make Solid Fit for Packers Defense
Martinez might have been a tackling machine for the Packers, finishing the 2019 season with a second-most 155 combined tackles, but his lack of athleticism in coverage was nationally exploited in the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers. That would no longer be an issue if Littleton were to take his place as Green Bay’s defensive centerpiece.
Littleton doesn’t just hold opposing passers to fewer completions and yardage. He also disrupts plays and produces takeaways in a way Martinez has never done during his four seasons with the Packers. It doesn’t hurt, either, that much of his success came from a system that frequent dime packages such as the one he would be walking into with Mike Pettine’s defense.
“He’s kind of your Swiss army knife on defense,” Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said recently of Littleton via USA Today. “He covers tight ends and backs, and he’s a tremendous tackler.”
Unfortunately, Littleton isn’t a better run-stopper than Martinez. He actually ranked worse than him, according to 2019 statistics Huber used to compare the two linebackers. Here’s what he said:
“At 228 pounds, he’s never going to be a dominant run defender. PFF has a stat called run stops, which essentially measures impact tackles (such as a first-and-10 tackle that limits the play to 3 yards or less). In 2019, Martinez had 31 and ranked 35th among off-the-ball linebackers with a run-stop percentage of 8.1. Littleton had 23 and ranked 73rd with a run-stop percentage of 5.8.”
Of course, the Packers are also looking to supplement their defensive line in hopes that finding better talent to play alongside nose tackle Kenny Clark will help them solve some of their issues against the run. And even still, it would be hard to imagine that Littleton wouldn’t be an improvement to the overall quality of the defense.