Blake Martinez signed his Giants contract in his weight room.
At first glance, that might seem like a cute but gimmicky way to introduce yourself to a new team and new fan base. It shows that he’s ready to work, that he’s dedicated and that he is serious about getting better. The team even posted a photo of the event on social media. It’s almost as if he took a break between reps to put ink to paper and then went right back to his lifting.
But the actual location where Martinez became a Giant — or at least as close to one as he can get until he is able to take his team physical — says much more about the team’s new inside linebacker than simply serving as a backdrop.
To understand that facility, how and why it was built, all that went into it and how it is being used, is to understand Martinez and why the Giants wanted to bring him in as the quarterback for their new defense.
When he was in high school, Martinez was a borderline overweight defensive lineman who stood 6-1 and weighed 265 pounds. That’s not a bad size for someone on the line of scrimmage, but Martinez wanted to be a linebacker. He wanted to be Ray Lewis.
To do that, he knew he had to change his body. He began to train religiously and swore off sodas and sweets. By the time he reached the NFL after four years at Stanford, he was a chiseled 6-2 and 235 pounds.
That body sculpting didn’t end there. As recently as last offseason, Martinez put forth work that resulted in a noticeable difference when he reported to OTAs with the Packers. He told reporters then that he had shed 3.5% of his body fat but still added about seven pounds to his frame, equating to roughly 15 pounds of new muscle. “I’m not messing around this year,” he said.
And that was before the new weight room came to be.
This new facility is a temple to not only fitness but precision and planning, designed and built from the ground up by Martinez and his father, Marc, who owns a construction company in Arizona. And to call it a weight room is a disservice. More than a shelter for a few plates and bars, it’s a full-fledged facility that includes everything from a sauna and massage table to a basketball court to a turf field.
There even is an area for Martinez’s daughter to play, and upstairs provides a place to live, making it a self-contained football factory. At a time when social distancing is preventing many NFL players from going through their normal paces to prepare for the upcoming season, Martinez is cocooned in his self-made shelter.
Martinez’s father did the bulk of the work on the building during this past season while his linebacker son was busy playing for the Packers. Blake Martinez was able to help lay the foundation in the early summer of 2019 before leaving for training camp, then returned home in late January in time to install the field turf and move the weight machines in.
Since then, it’s been more than a place to train, it’s a place to live. While the rest of the country adjusts to new work-from-home norms, Martinez is living in an edifice designed for exactly that dynamic.
“It was weirdly at a perfect time because we have to be quarantined,” Martinez said. “So I’m basically quarantined in a weight room. It’s been awesome for me.”
Other Giants players have had similar thoughts. Saquon Barkley said he turned his basement in New Jersey into a weight room.
“You go in my house and go downstairs and I’ve got a nice little gym setup,” the running back said. “I’ve kind of got a similar setup to what we have [at the Giants facility]. Like, if you could just put in your mind what we have in our weight room and just have it for an individual, I kind of have all of that stuff that is needed.”
Barkley said he planned on installing the equipment long before the pandemic.
“I always wanted to get my own little gym and then this happened, so it kind of, I guess you could say, played out perfectly for me,” he said. “I’m really not missing a beat. [I’m] just trying to attack it as best as I can and trying to keep my body in tip-top shape so when the opportunity does come, I am more than ready.”
Unlike Martinez, Barkley had his equipment installed in a pre-existing house. That Martinez and his father built theirs themselves brings their journey full circle.
Martinez is known as one of the most meticulous linebackers in the NFL. Whether it is studying video of opponents or making calls on the field, his four productive seasons with the Packers have shown an attention to detail that few can match.
It’s a characteristic that began, Martinez has said, when he was a kid following his father around on worksites.
Back then, Marc Martinez assigned his son a job. Blake had to pick up all of the nails that were scattered about the area and put them in a bucket. He’d get one cent for each nail he found, and given the size and scope of some of the projects, that could translate into a few bucks a day. Not exactly a great wage, but for a 10-year-old, it was a sweet deal. Each plink in the pail was another penny.
“My high score, I always kept a high score, was probably around 1,200 nails or something like that,” Martinez told reporters when he was drafted by the Packers. “He would give me a little magnet, probably 2 inches by 2 inches, and I’d have to go around and pick up all these nails and I would count them.”
There was, however, a catch.
Martinez had to pick up all of the nails. If he missed any of them, no matter how many he had collected, he wouldn’t get any money. He learned the lesson quickly. The money was in being meticulous.
A few years later, Blake asked his father to build him a basketball court. Marc did him one better: He made Blake build it himself. So at 13, Martinez had to dig the hole for the hoop and shovel out a trench to form the borders of the court.
These days, Martinez gets paid much more for nailing opponents on the field than he did for picking up nails in construction fields. The Giants gave him $30 million over three years.
But they also expect that he will attack the job at linebacker the same way he did when his father first “hired” him: with precision and with attention to the granular as well as the widespread. As if all of the good things that he does will be wiped away if he lets just one delinquent detail slip by.
It’s no wonder, then, that Martinez inked his contract in that weight room. It was more than a token gesture or a nice setting for a snapshot. He wasn’t trying to send a subliminal signal to anyone. It was simply the only place that felt right for the act, the place where he is most comfortable, the place where he literally lives these days.
It was, in effect, Martinez’s signature.