Punter is a tough position to really evaluate. There are some stats like net average that can give you a pretty good idea of how the special teamer is doing, but a faulty coverage team can make a punter look bad there. Your basic punting average stat doesn’t include context, like outkicking coverage or pinning team deep in their own end zone.
For the past seven years, Sam Martin has been doing a pretty good job punting the ball. At one point in his career, his was borderline All Pro, but he has since taken a bit of a step back. Still, his punting, in general, has looked to be well above acceptable.
Now Martin is facing free agency, and the Detroit Lions have an interesting question at hand: Continue with Martin’s good-but-nothing-special punting abilities or start over with someone new?
Expectations before 2019
Martin was entering his contract year with a lot of questions surrounding him. An injury caused him to miss much of his 2017 season and he never quite looked the same afterwards. In both 2017 and 2018, Martin averaged under 40.0 net yards per punt for the only times in his career. That being said, he only had four total touchbacks on punts in 2018, so it was clear he still had some talent there.
There was never really a question that Martin would be Detroit’s punter in 2019, but there was definitely a sense that he needed a return to form if his future were to stay in Detroit.
Actual role in 2019
2019 Stats: 16 games: 45.3 yards per punt (41.8 net average); 31 inside 20-yard line, 7 touchbacks; 61 kickoffs, 17 touchdbacks
PFF Grade: 63.5 (26th of 32 qualifying punters—20% of snaps)
It wasn’t a spectacular year for Martin, but he was asked to do a lot and did it well. His punting average was back up above 40 (and 11th in the league).
But perhaps Martin’s most underrated use was on kickoffs. The Lions had a very clear strategy of trying to land kickoffs right around the goal line so that the opposing team was forced into a return. Martin did that to near perfection all year, and he did so while battling an injury to his abdomen for much of the final half of the season.
Martin’s value really showed up in the few occasions in which veteran kicker Matt Prater had to take over kickoff duties. Check out the comparisons:
Martin: 61 kickoffs, 17 touchbacks, 27.9 average kick return
Prater: 19 kickoffs, 8 touchbacks, 35.7 average kick return
What should the Lions do with him?
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent
The case for re-signing:
Sometime it’s better to just not have to worry too much about special teams. Martin is that security blanket that is above average at pretty much everything he does. He’s never had a serious issue with punting, holding or kickoffs.
He may not be as elite as it looked like he was trending towards early in his career, but he’s dependable, which should be almost as valuable in the special teams game. If you’re worried he’ll be asking for too much money, the highest cap hit for a punter in 2020 belongs to All Pro Johnny Hekker, at just $4.7 million. There are only five punters with a cap hit above $3 million.
$3 million a year is a bargain for peace of mind at punter. We all remember what happened when Martin was gone due to injury, right?
The case for letting him walk:
The only real reason to let him walk is if he’s asking too much. Martin’s average salary was already top three in the league ($3.4 million) and there’s a chance he’ll ask for even more given how much he does for this team.
The Lions could probably save a hefty amount of cash by drafting a punter on Day 3 of the draft, and they just spent a full week getting to know one of the best punters the entire nation has to offer in Senior Bowl participant Braden Mann. The Texas A&M punter broke the NCAA record in 2018 with 50.98 yards per punt, and he also handles kickoffs, too.
It’s really a toss up here. Part of me believes in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” policy when it comes to special teams. But it also makes sense to trim spending at the special teams position, if possible.
Overall, though, I am completely fine with the kind of play the Lions have gotten from Martin over the past seven years. If it costs a little extra to keep that around another few years while also avoiding having to spend a Day 3 pick on special teams, I’m perfectly okay with that.
What should the Lions do with Sam Martin?
This poll is closed
Let him walk