The Green Bay Packers are not expected to waste any time once the NFL’s legal tampering window opens Monday afternoon and teams can officially start entering into negotiations with the agents of prospective free agents.
The Packers are expected to be “all over” Los Angeles Rams free-agent linebacker Cory Littleton, who is considered to be one of the top options on the market in 2020, as soon as talks can begin at noon E.T. on Monday. According to The Athletic’s Vic Tafur, the Las Vegas Raiders are set to be just as eager to secure Littleton’s talents for next season.
Littleton was previously pegged as a “top priority” for the Packers in free agency after they inquired about several of the market’s top options — including Cleveland’s Joe Schobert and Chicago’s Nick Kwiatkoski — during last month’s NFL Scouting Combine, setting the stage for a wholesale change in Green Bay’s linebacker corps next year.
The Packers’ current top option at inside linebacker, Blake Martinez, is set to become an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday and could be on his way out the door with a team more enthusiastic about paying him top dollar. While he came just four tackles short of tying for the NFL lead in 2019, Martinez has struggled to deliver impact plays and has proved average, at best, at stopping the run.
B.J. Goodson, the Packers’ second option at inside linebacker, is also due to become a free agent.
Littleton could be just the upgrade the Packers need at the position to keep themselves in a position to contend for a Super Bowl title next season. Not only has he recorded more than 125 tackles in each of his first two seasons as a starter, but he also produced far more impact plays than Martinez with five interceptions, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and seven sacks in that span.
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Littleton Better, But Not Against the Run
The Packers would have to devote a larger chunk of their cap space to Littleton if they signed him for the 2020 season, but there is no denying they would be gaining a major defensive asset. Whether he will be worth his projected price — between $13-15 million — depends more on one of his biggest weaknesses last year: stopping the run.
Littleton is touted for his abilities against the pass with 22 pass deflections over the past two years to complement his stout takeaway numbers, but he received one of the worst run-stopping grades among linebackers during the 2019 season, per Pro Football Focus. Littleton actually rated worse than Martinez in terms of run defense, but the measurement also fails to account for how Littleton’s greater athleticism allows him to compensate when he makes a late read.
The Packers would have to make improving Littleton’s abilities as a run-stopper one of their top priorities if they were to settle on him as their defensive centerpiece of the future, but they might be able to smooth the transition with another valuable piece added to their defensive line this offseason.