The next time will be the first time for Blake Martinez, making this the most challenging time to be an NFL free agent heading to a new team.
The new Giants inside linebacker has never set foot inside the team facility and there is a good chance he will not see his new headquarters until late this summer. Staying home and working remotely is the new normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing and learning all there is to know when changing teams — from the playbook to the personalities of your new teammates to where the heck the cafeteria is located — are diametrically opposed practices that Martinez, after four years with the Packers, must navigate during this most unusual Giants indoctrination.
“It will be a decent disadvantage for me,” Martinez said Monday. “Because I think you grow a lot even just working out as a team, running as a team, you grow that camaraderie of like, ‘OK, this guy next to me is working his butt off to get better and it’s helping the team.’ That will be a big disadvantage, just relationship-wise.”
Perhaps Martinez can overcome some of this by leaning on one of his great strengths. He said he has experience learning remotely based on how information was disseminated while he played at Stanford. Maybe his smarts can make up for the lack of physical interaction that is going to define the NFL landscape this spring and likely into training camps.
“It will be a big advantage to guys able to pick up things quickly, take good notes, understand what the coach is telling him without having being able to take reps in those things,” Martinez said.
Martinez signed a three-year, $30 million deal from the weight room he and his father, Marc — the owner of a construction company — recently completed at the family home in Tucson, Ariz. This is a stroke of good fortune for Martinez, given that players around the league are having to scramble to find places to work out. Martinez helped his father lay the foundation for the athletic complex, which includes a living area, full weight room, turf field and basketball court.
“It was weirdly at a perfect time just because we have to be quarantined, so I’m basically quarantined in a weight room,” Martinez said.
Martinez did not miss a game or a start the past three years for the Packers. He had a few other options in free agency but said coming to the Giants was “kinda a no-brainer for me.” He holds Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham in high regard from the 2018 season spent together in Green Bay and he likes that the Giants are a young team, allowing the core to build together.
There was a brief phone conversation with his new head coach, Joe Judge, and discussions with Graham, inside linebacker coach Kevin Sherrer and other Giants personnel. The team sent him a Microsoft tablet containing all the Giants’ games from last season. Even in a normal offseason, Martinez would not be allowed to receive any material for the 2020 season until the Giants start their offseason program. That would have been April 6 but the entire league is on hiatus, as far as social gatherings, with all team facilities shut down.
“Kind of in limbo right now,” Martinez said. “Just working out. Kind of waiting for the next steps within the virus protocol of what we’re allowed to do.”
Martinez has not shared a meeting room or a field with any of the Giants linebackers, other than Kyler Fackrell, another former Packers player signed this month. The first time he gets to look his new teammates in the eyes will be via a computer screen. He has no idea when he will actually get to meet them in person.
“It will be weird not to be able to sit in the same room and get to know each other that way,” Martinez said. “I think the coaches are setting up a good regimen to allow us to thrive in that kind of environment.”
Soon enough, Martinez figures he will “meet” the other linebackers via cyberspace.
“Use interesting ways to have fun and interact without having to be with each other,” he said. “Whether it’s playing video games or chatting on a Zoom call or a Skype call, getting to know each other and kind of bond that way so when we do step in the facility the first time it’s not something that’s like, ‘Oh hey, I’m Blake,’ or whatever it ends up being.”