GREEN BAY – In the postgame locker room following the loss to San Francisco in the NFC title game, linebacker Blake Martinez couldn't help but get emotional.
The reality had hit him that the 2016 fourth-round draft pick from Stanford might have just played his last game for the Packers. As a pending free agent, he was just being realistic about the business side of the game, and having to react to such a tough loss – his second on the brink of the Super Bowl in four years in Green Bay – didn't make it any easier.
The next day as he cleaned out his locker, the emotions were more under control, but the sentiments were still the same.
"I want to be back here. I want to play here," Martinez said. "This is a special place to me and a special group of guys. Special things that are happening within this group, especially moving on from this year. But it's one of those things, whatever happens, happens, and I'm ready to adapt on whatever path is chosen for me."
After playing mostly special teams as a rookie, Martinez became the nerve center of the Packers' defense for the past three seasons – Dom Capers' last as defensive coordinator and Mike Pettine's first two. He's been a key communicator in getting calls made and the defensive front aligned properly.
He's been a tackling machine, compiling 203 total tackles this past regular season, according to the coaches' film review, and becoming the first Packers defender to top 200 in one year since coaches started tallying the numbers in 1975. He led the team for a third straight time.
In the passing game, Martinez switched from being a coverage linebacker under Capers (11 passes defensed in 2017) to getting more involved in the pass rush under Pettine, racking up eight sacks over the last two seasons.
He also hasn't missed a game since his rookie season, playing in 56 straight (including playoffs) dating back to December 2016, despite a hand injury this year that required a type of cast or wrap for several games. His career has never been full of splash plays – though his fourth-quarter interception (his first since Nov. 2017) in Week 17 at Detroit was instrumental in the Packers getting a first-round bye this year – but reliability has been more his trademark.
"Consistent," Martinez said, when asked what kind of player he's proven to be in his career thus far. "For me it's every single game, you're going to get the same guy, he's going to be a guy that goes out there, fights for his team, whether injured or not, can line everybody up, get everybody in the right positions, make plays that he needs to make, do everything a defensive coordinator needs him to do."
Martinez certainly has done his part off the field as well, not only in the locker room but in the community, earning the Packers' nomination for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for 2019, which will be handed out to one winner amongst all 32 nominees across the league this weekend at NFL Honors.
Green Bay Packers players packed up their belongings as the 2019 football season came to an end.
Whether or not the Packers bring him back remains an open question. A second contract is usually a player's biggest chance to cash in and Martinez will be looking to do what's best for him and his family. Meanwhile, the Packers must decide how to allocate resources as they make adjustments on a defense that progressed considerably the past two years but fell apart in San Francisco with a berth in the Super Bowl at stake.
The 49ers ran all over the Packers to the tune of 285 rushing yards, which was tough for everyone to take. Martinez certainly doesn't want that to be his last game with Green Bay, but his offseason plan was to take a couple of weeks to decompress and then start pondering his future.
"Right now it's just focus on myself, get my body right, and then (his agent) will have more answers down the road of what's going to be out there, what options and things like that," Martinez said. "I'll have to see how it all turns out."