There were a lot of expectations that the Giants would be poaching from the Patriots this offseason. New head coach Joe Judge had spent the past six seasons in New England, deeply immersed in the culture and personnel of the most dominant franchise of the past decade. With several key pieces seemingly about to shake loose from that organization, it seemed a good bet that Judge and the Giants would be among the suitors.
It turns out new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s one season as linebackers coach of the Packers in 2018 is having a much bigger impact on the reshaping of the Giants’ roster.
The team agreed to terms with two of Graham’s former players on Tuesday, first hammering out a three-year, $30 million deal with inside linebacker Blake Martinez and then a one-year, $4.6 million deal for outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell, a source confirmed. Neither of the contracts can be finalized until the start of the league year on Wednesday afternoon and are pending team physicals. Martinez and Fackrell have been teammates with the Packers for four seasons and were part of the same Green Bay draft class in 2016.
Martinez is the bigger catch and he’ll step in as the leader of the defense, running the huddle and making the checks. That was a role that Alec Ogletree played for the Giants for the last two seasons, but the Giants released the veteran this offseason and were looking for an upgrade. They re-signed David Mayo over the weekend and have Ryan Connolly coming back from a torn ACL following a promising but abbreviated rookie season, but the Giants needed someone to quarterback their defense. Martinez appears to be the player for that job, hand-picked by Graham.
The one season Martinez played for Graham he had 144 tackles and a career-high 5.0 sacks. He was a four-year starter for the Packers and led the team in tackles each of the last three, including a career-high 155 last season. The one area where the 6-2, 237-pound Martinez is thought to struggle is pass coverage. His signing with the Giants, though, could be an indication that they intend to select Clemson’s multi-purpose linebacker Isaiah Simmons with the fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft.
As for Fackrell, he had a breakout season in 2018 under Graham, recording 10.5 sacks and showing the athleticism that led to the Packers drafting him in the third round. But a year ago this time, the Packers brought in Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to be their starting edge rushers and Fackrell’s defensive snaps dwindled. He had just 1.0 sack in 2019 while playing in all 16 games, mostly on special teams.
Fackrell’s one-year deal is somewhat similar to the one for the player he’s likely replacing with the Giants, Markus Golden. Last year Golden signed a one-year “prove it” contract with the Giants (and his former coach, then Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher) to show that his breakout season of 12.5 sacks for the Cardinals in 2016 was not a fluke. He led the Giants with 10.0 sacks in 2019 and is now a free agent. The Giants have several young players at outside linebacker that they are hoping will develop into impact players, including Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines. Assuming Golden does not return, though, Fackrell would be the only Giant with a double-digit sack season in his career.
Big Toilolo added. Levine Toilolo caught just two passes for 10 yards with the 49ers last season, but his blocking as George Kittle’s backup was impressive enough for the Giants to agree to terms with him on a one-year deal. Like all free-agency maneuvers, his won’t be official until Wednesday’s start to the league year and a completed physical. Toilolo, listed at 6-8 and 268 pounds, will enter his eighth NFL season after six with the Falcons and one each with the Lions and 49ers. He essentially replaced Rhett Ellison as the veteran presence with a blocking pedigree. Ellison retired earlier this month . . . The Giants are re-signing Cody Core, a wide receiver and one of their top special teams performers in 2019. Core was claimed off waivers from the Bengals at the start of last season and appeared in all 16 games for the Giants, recording eight special teams tackles.