Blake Martinez

New York Notes: Darnold, Giants, Sanders

Before the legal tampering period kicked off, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com said it was more likely than not that the Jets would trade Sam Darnold, assuming that BYU QB Zach Wilson — whom the Jets would select with the No. 2 overall pick to replace Darnold — “checks the important boxes during the pre-draft process.” Cimini said at the time that there was a market for Darnold, and he named Washington, the Bears, the Seahawks, the Texans, and the 49ers as potential landing spots.

But since then, WFT signed Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chicago acquired Andy Dalton. Obviously, neither of those QBs are long-term answers, but they do at least obviate an immediate need for a signal-caller. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are moving forward with Russell Wilson, Houston may be unable to trade incumbent QB Deshaun Watson in light of the sexual abuse allegations that have been levied against him, and it’s unclear how actively San Francisco is pursuing an upgrade over Jimmy Garoppolo. As such, the Jets might not be able to trade Darnold, and it will be interesting to see if that will impact the team’s decision with respect to Zach Wilson (or any other rookie passer).

Now for more out of the Empire State:

  • In less exciting Jets news, the team is still looking into free agent kickers and wants to find a starting-caliber corner, as Cimini writes. The CB need will probably be filled in the draft; Cimini does not expect the club to pursue Richard Sherman, despite the obvious Sherman-Robert Saleh connection.
  • It might go without saying, but when the Giants agreed to a three-year, $63MM pact with DL Leonard Williams a few days ago, Williams agreed to drop his grievance concerning his 2020 franchise tag, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Williams was tagged as a defensive tackle but believed he should have received a defensive end tag, and if he had prevailed, his tag number for 2021 would have jumped to $21.4MM. Since he got a $21MM AAV on his extension, things worked out just fine for him in the end.
  • Per Dan Duggan of The Athletic, Williams — who is clearly not afraid to bet on himself — pushed for a shorter contract so that he can hit the open market again before he turns 30. Duggan says the Giants have explored restructures for 2020 signees James Bradberry and Blake Martinez, something the club may need to really push for now that it has agreed to a big-money deal for WR Kenny Golladay.
  • The Giants signed veteran TE Kyle Rudolph earlier this week, but his addition does not impact Evan Engram‘s status with the team, a source tells Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com. Engram will play out the 2021 season on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal and hopes for a strong platform performance after struggling a bit in 2020.
  • These days, instead of being forced to reach out to agents to convince their clients to play in western New York, agents are the ones calling the Bills, as Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News writes. Head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane have created a winning club and a positive culture, and players around the league are taking notice and now see Buffalo as an attractive destination. While the Bills didn’t have a ton of cap space heading into this year’s free agent cycle — or many major holes to fill — they did bring in WR Emmanuel Sanders, whom they had targeted for several years. Sanders is a prime example of the changing feelings towards Buffalo, saying “[w]ho wouldn’t want to be part of it?” (via John Wawrow of the Associated Press).

Giants To Sign LB Blake Martinez

The Giants have agreed to sign Packers free agent linebacker Blake Martinez, as NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets. Once finalized on or after Wednesday, it’ll be a three-year deal worth $30MM. 

Martinez, 26, has landed an uncommonly lucrative deal for a middle linebacker. Still, it’s important to remember that the market has shifted in recent years, with big names like C.J. Mosley and Bobby Wagner leading the way. The Giants hope that their deal with Martinez turns out better than the Jets’ pact with Mosley; of course, the age differential between the two players is key. Martinez’s best years are still ahead of him and the Giants were happy to pay the price to land him.

Martinez turned in another productive season in 2019, tallying a career-high 155 tackles to go along with three sacks, two passes defended, an interception, and one forced fumble. The linebacker has finished with at least 140 tackles in each of the past three seasons.

The Martinez signing came hours after the club also agreed to terms with Panthers free agent cornerback James Bradberry. Giants GM Dave Gettleman is intent on revamping the team’s swiss cheese defense this offseason and he’s doing so with his trademark aggressiveness.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On LB Blake Martinez, Packers

NFL.com’s Blake Martinez is set to get paid on the open market, but that contract might not come from the Packers. NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo reports that the linebacker may have played his final game with the organization.

There are a variety of reasons why Garafolo came to this conclusion. For starters, general manager Brian Gutekunst made it clear that they’ll “evaluate” the position, which would probably be an odd statement if the team was confident they’d retain their leading tackler. Further, Martinez was emotional following the Packers’ NFC Championship loss, and much of that could have been due to the fact that the 26-year-old had potentially played his final game with the organization.

Plus, Garafolo notes that the market for middle linebackers has exploded in recent years, with C.J. Mosley and Bobby Wagner earning lucrative, market-setting contracts. Martinez has been one of the most productive linebackers in the league over the past few years, so teams will surely be lining up for his services. Even if the Packers are focused on retaining the veteran, there’s a chance that a rival could throw him an extraordinary amount of money.

Martinez had another productive season in 2019, compiling a career-high 155 tackles to go along with three sacks, two passes defended, an interception, and one forced fumble. The linebacker has finished with at least 140 tackles the past three seasons.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Torn Pec Feared For Packers LB Oren Burks

Packers starting linebacker Oren Burks is believed to have suffered a torn pectoral muscle, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky writes. More tests are expected to determine the next course of action, Demovsky hears. 

The second-year linebacker sustained the injury, originally believed to be a shoulder injury, in the first quarter of Green Bay’s preseason opener vs. the Texans. When asked on Thursday, Packers coach Matt LaFleur did not provide an update on whether the injury would cost the linebacker significant time.

“Honestly, I don’t really know anything right now,” LaFleur said. “It’s kind of wait and see, but I hope not.”

A third-round selection in 2018, Burks appeared in 14 games as a rookie, starting four. He logged 24 tackles and was expected to take over as a starting inside linebacker alongside Blake Martinez in 2019. Though Burks was slated as a starter, it is essentially a part-time role in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme, which calls for a hybrid safety at times to fill the role.

2019 Proven Performance Escalators

According to the NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement, players drafted in rounds three though seven are entitled to raises during the fourth year of their respective rookie contracts. The pay bumps are tied to playing time — a player must have played in 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averaged 35% playing time cumulatively during that period.

If one of these thresholds is met, the player’s salary is elevated to the level of that year’s lowest restricted free agent tender — that figure should be around $2MM in 2019. Players selected in the first or second round, undrafted free agents, and kickers/punters are ineligible for the proven performance escalator.

Here are the players who will see their salary rise in 2019 courtesy of the proven performance escalator:

Bears: RB Jordan Howard, LB Nick Kwiatkoski

Bengals: LB Nick Vigil

Broncos: G Connor McGovern, S Will Parks, S Justin Simmons

Browns: S Derrick Kindred, LB Joe Schobert

Buccaneers: G Caleb Benenoch, DE Carl Nassib, CB Ryan Smith

Chargers: LB Jatavis Brown

Chiefs: CB Kendall Fuller, WR Tyreek Hill, S Eric Murray, WR Demarcus Robinson

Colts: QB Jacoby Brissett, T Joe Haeg

Cowboys: CB Anthony Brown, DT Maliek Collins, QB Dak Prescott

Dolphins: RB Kenyan Drake

Eagles: CB Jalen Mills, T Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Falcons: LB De’Vondre Campbell, TE Austin Hooper, G Wes Schweitzer

Jaguars: DE Yannick Ngakoue

Jets: LB Jordan Jenkins, CB Rashard Robinson, T Brandon Shell

Lions: C Graham Glasgow

Packers: LB Kyler Fackrell, DE Dean Lowry, LB Blake Martinez, LB Antonio Morrison

Patriots: G Joe Thuney, LB Elandon Roberts

Rams: G Austin Blythe, TE Tyler Higbee

Ravens: DE Matt Judon, OL Alex Lewis, CB Tavon Young

Saints: DT David Onyemata

Steelers: DT Javon Hargrave

Texans: DT D.J. Reader

Titans: S Kevin Byard, WR Tajae Sharpe

OverTheCap.com was essential in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. 

Extra Points: Mexico, Saints, Packers, Broncos

Could Donald Trump’s campaign promises affect the NFL’s games staged in Mexico? The league says that won’t be the case.

I’m a firm believer that any international focus requires you to manage within the political climate that exists,” NFL executive vice president/International Mark Waller told Alex Marvez of The Sporting News. “You can’t control what government is or is not in place. Our job irrespective of that is doing everything we can do to expand the popularity of our sport.”

The NFL estimates that it has 28.3 million fans in Mexico with 9.9 million categorized as “hardcore” supporters. The league does big business south of the border and hopes to grow the fanbase going forward.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • The Saints added Kevin O’Dea as an assistant coach to help with their struggling special teams, as Christopher Dabe of The Times-Picayune writes. “I think when you have some struggles in an area immediately I think the reaction is people want heads to fly,” Payton said. “I think for us, it’s about bringing in someone that can help. I think [special teams coordinator] Greg [McMahon] and [special teams assistant] Stan [Kwan] and those guys, this is a low-ego business. We want to win, and that’s the most important thing. So a guy like Kevin I think can help us. He was fired up. He got in here (Monday) afternoon.”
  • Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez is expected to miss multiple games with an MCL sprain, a source tells Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The fourth-round pick has started nine games for Green Bay this year.
  • The Broncos placed a claim on running back Ronnie Hillman, tweets Mike Klis of 9News in Denver (via Twitter). The 25-year-old was waived by the Vikings yesterday and landed on the Chargers today.

Ben Levine contributed to this report.

Impact Rookies: Green Bay Packers

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

First Round – Kenny Clark, DL (UCLA, No. 27 overall)

Sometimes, even big men fly under the radar, as seems to be the case with this Bruins standout. Named his team’s MVP, he was a dominating force in the middle of the line, taking over starting duties as a sophomore. Well-respected by the staff and teammates, the co-captain preferred to not be in the limelight. However, NFL scouts saw him as a bright light on a dark night. Kenny Clark

In three seasons, Clark delivered 153 tackles with six sacks and 18.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. In his two seasons as a starter, he delivered 117 of those tackles in run force, posted a total of 28 hits for losses (assists and solos) while bringing down twelve other ball carriers for no gain. Twenty-four of those stops came inside the red zone, including seven on goal-line stands.

Clark has really come on strong in recognizing blocking schemes and it was rare to see him bite on misdirection or play action during his junior season. He has no problems taking plays from the chalkboard to the playing field, needing minimal reps to retain. He plays with very good awareness, taking advantage of his impressive arm length to keep blockers off his feet and legs. The UCLA product demonstrated that he picks up schemes quickly and he does well staying with the flow of the play to close on the ball.

Clark has a very explosive initial step with quick feet, good athleticism and balance for his size, along with the body control and low pad level to come off the snap and get an immediate advantage versus a lethargic offensive lineman. He flashes a strong, consistent hand punch, enough to consistently put the blocker up on his heels, driving with good leverage walking that lineman back into the pocket. He has that initial burst needed on movement and the suddenness to gain advantage when engaging double teams. He has good initial quickness coming off the snap and for a player of his size, that burst can surprise an offensive lineman.

Clark appears poised to show that he should have gone earlier than No. 27 in this year’s draft. Word out of Green Bay is that Clark will start at nose tackle in the base 3-4 and his skill set plus versatility will ensure that he sees plenty of time on the field as an NFL frosh.

Continue reading about the Packers’ rookies..

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Draft Pick Signings: Eagles, Packers, Bears, Colts

Checking in on the latest rookie signings from around the NFL…

  • Two offensive linemen – third-rounder Isaac Seumalo and fifth-rounder Halapoulivaati Vaitai – have agreed to deals with the Eagles, the team tweeted. Seumalo went 79th in the draft after playing various positions, mostly center, along Oregon State’s O-line. Vaitai, the 164th pick, made 30 starts at tackle (primarily on the right side) during his TCU tenure.
  • The Colts have signed fourth-round linebacker Antonio Morrison, the 125th overall choice, according to a team press release. Morrison was a four-year starter at Florida.
  • Packers general manager Ted Thompson announced the signings of four draftees — fourth-rounders Blake Martinez (linebacker, Stanford) and Dean Lowry (defensive end, Northwestern), fifth-rounder Trevor Davis (receiver, California) and sixth-rounder Kyle Murphy (offensive tackle, Stanford). Those four were Green Bay’s final picks of this year’s draft. The team still has to lock up its top three selections, including first-round defensive lineman Kenny Clark.
  • The Bears inked fourth-round defensive back Deiondre’ Hall to a four-year deal worth $2.85MM, including a $510,982 signing bonus, reports Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter). Hall, the 127th pick, piled up 13 interceptions during his four years at Northern Iowa.
  • The Vikings have signed fourth-round offensive lineman Willie Beavers and fifth-round linebacker Kentrell Brothers, per a team press release. Beavers was a stalwart at left tackle for Western Michigan before the Vikings grabbed him with the 121st choice, while Brothers – the 160th selection – was a prolific defensive playmaker at Missouri.
  • The Steelers announced the signing of sixth-round linebacker Travis Feeney, a former University of Washington standout and the 220th overall pick.

NFC Draft Rumors: Eagles, Lynch, Washington

The Eagles will work out Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch and it’s not just for kicks, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Despite having Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel under contract, Rapoport says they’re serious about Lynch and they’re taking owner Jeffrey Lurie on each trip.

While we wait to see if the Eagles’ QB situation could get even weirder, here’s a look at some more draft news from the NFC:

  • Boston College linebacker Steven Daniels worked out for the Eagles on Wednesday, according to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net (for WalterFootball.com). Daniels has also auditioned for New Orleans.
  • Coach Jay Gruden says he wants Washington to draft a developmental quarterback, as Tarik El-Bashir of CSNMidAtlantic.com writes. “You have your starter. You got your quality backup. And you’ve got to have [another] one in the [quarterback meeting] room—whether it’s your third on the active roster or a practice squad guy—that you can develop,” Gruden said last week. Of course, Kirk Cousins will be the team’s starter with Colt McCoy as his primary understudy. However, Gruden would like to add a young QB who can be groomed without an immediate timeline.
  • The Buccaneers worked out UTSA tight end David Morgan on Tuesday, according to Jenna Laine of Sports Talk 1040 (on Twitter). Morgan also worked out for Philadelphia recently.
  • The Falcons were at Stanford on Wednesday to work out tight end Austin Hooper and linebacker Blake Martinez, according to Tony Pauline for Walter Football. On Tuesday, Atlanta coaches were at Washington State to scope out Washington State offensive lineman Joseph Dahl, receiver Dominique Williams, and defensive lineman Destiny Vaeao.

Draft Notes: Cravens, Lawson, Hogan

Let’s round up some draft notes to close out this Tuesday evening:

  • Contrary to prior reports, USC linebacker Su’a Cravens will not be holding any private workouts for interested clubs, according to agent Fadde Mikhail (article via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk). Mikhail said, “There have been too many teams that have called to set up private workouts, and I think Su’a’s body of work on film speaks for itself.” Cravens played linebacker for much of 2015, but many teams view him as a safety at the next level, and he is seen as a late first-round or early second-round prospect. As Florio notes, the decision not to work out for teams is gradually becoming more popular with some agents, who believe the reward of potentially increased draft positioning does not justify the risk of an injury that could be sustained at a workout. Greg Gabriel of NFPost.com, however, disagrees with that line of thinking, as he thinks private workouts are a critical part of the draft process that allow a team to learn more about a player’s talent and personality. He adds that Mikhail’s decision will cause Cravens’ draft stock to drop (Twitter links).
  • Clemson DE Shaq Lawson, who already has a number of visits/workouts lined up, will also visit with the Lions, according to Dave Birkett of The Detroit Free Press.
  • The Eagles worked out Stanford QB Kevin Hogan, WR/TE Devon Cajuste, and LB Blake Martinez today, according to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net (Twitter links).
  • 16 teams showed up to watch LB Victor Ochi at Stony Brook’s pro day yesterday, per Pauline, who adds that the Colts privately worked out Illinois State running back Marshaun Coprich (post via WalterFootball.com).
  • UCLA KR/WR Devin Fuller worked out for “multiple members of the Falcons braintrust” yesterday, according to Rand Getlin of The NFL Network (via Twitter).
  • Minnesota CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun will visit with the Vikings next week, according to Darren Wolfson of KTSP (via Twitter).
  • The Bengals were on hand at Western Kentucky’s pro day today to watch TE Tyler Higbee, as Robert Klemko of SI.com tweets.
  • Temple CB Tavon Young will work out for the Cardinals, Jets, Titans, and Ravens, and will visit the Steelers and Ravens, according to Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle (article via NFPost.com).