Linebacker Blake Martinez, who retired from the NFL during the 2022 season and later became embroiled in a high-profile Pokémon card scandal, has now joined the Carolina Panthers as a member of their practice squad. On Tuesday, this experienced player’s addition to the team was confirmed.
The possibility of Martinez taking the field in the upcoming Thursday night’s primetime game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field has not been ruled out by head coach Frank Reich or defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. Martinez, who is familiar with Carolina’s 3-4 defensive scheme from his previous tenure with the Green Bay Packers (2016-2019), is also open to the prospect of being promoted to the 53-man roster in time for the game.
After his first practice with the Panthers, Martinez expressed his eagerness to play, saying, “Every competitor wants every chance they get to go and play. Any opportunity I get, I’ll gladly take it. There’s obviously a process to it. I feel like if you went to anyone and said, ‘Hey, you want to play on Thursday night football?’ They’d be, ‘Hell, yeah!’ No matter who it is.”
Martinez, who is 29 years old, last played for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2022. He announced his retirement in November of that season, citing his decision to focus on family and future endeavors in a social media post. Although some reports suggested that his retirement was linked to his Pokémon and sports trading card business, known as “Blake’s Breaks,” Martinez clarified that it was primarily a personal decision.
The Pokémon card scandal gained widespread attention when Reddit and YouTube users began accusing Blake’s Breaks of misconduct in July. According to CNBC, Martinez’s venture, which sold rare trading cards, generated over $8.3 million in revenue, with one Pokémon card reportedly selling for $672,000. In August, he was permanently removed from the online marketplace Whatnot and accused of fraudulent activities.
Martinez defended his actions, claiming that there were false claims and speculations surrounding the controversy. He also mentioned that his business is currently on hold while working through these issues, emphasizing the importance of due diligence and the need to ensure that such problems don’t recur in the future.
The Panthers reached out to Martinez approximately seven weeks ago when starting inside linebacker Shaq Thompson was placed on season-ending injured reserve due to a broken fibula. The call came from linebackers coach Peter Hansen, who had previously coached Martinez at Stanford. After getting back into shape, Martinez received a call from the Panthers on Monday.
Additionally, the New Orleans Saints expressed interest in signing Martinez. His history as a fourth-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2016, during the tenure of Carolina’s senior defensive consultant Dom Capers, who was the defensive coordinator for the Packers and is currently implementing the 3-4 scheme for the Panthers, adds an interesting dynamic to his return.
With several key outside linebackers sidelined, including Brian Burns due to a concussion and Justin Houston and Yetur Gross-Matos on injured reserve, Martinez’s arrival could pave the way for inside linebacker Frankie Luvu to play an outside role. Coach Reich highlighted Martinez’s familiarity with the 3-4 system, as he previously played under Evero, a disciple of Capers during his time in Green Bay, the same year Martinez was drafted.
Martinez is excited to get back into the game, whether it’s this Thursday or in the following week, as he expressed, “I definitely missed it. Once the season started, seeing all the stuff during training camp, there was still that itch. I was like, ‘I can still do that.'”