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Analysis: Gabe Martin extension shows Arizona's commitment to special teams

The Arizona Cardinals re-signed inside linebacker and special teams asset Gabe Martin to a one-year extension Monday.

To the casual fan, the Arizona Cardinals' decision to re-sign a player like inside linebacker Gabe Martin doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Martin has had two years to prove his worth as an inside linebacker, and he's spent one of those seasons on the practice squad and half of the other on Arizona's injured reserve list.

So why would Arizona make re-signing Martin to a one-year extension a priority for the organization this offseason? Why wouldn't the Cardinals see if they could find an equally cost-efficient option who at least provides the team with the possibility of meaningful production on the defensive side of the ball in free agency?

The decision to re-sign Martin goes back to the message general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians have been preaching throughout the offseason, and that message is that the Cardinals desperately need to improve on special teams.

Yes, improvement on special teams begins with a stronger season from place kicker Chandler Catanzaro and a spike in production from whoever the Cardinals elect to serve as the team's punter in 2017, but there's other ways Arizona can make its special teams units more competitive. 

While Martin is labeled as an inside linebacker, that's simply the defensive position he practices at during the regular season. In actuality, Martin is a a kickoff cover man, an anchor of Arizona's protection unit on punts, a key blocker in the Cardinals' kickoff return scheme, and probably earns time on the team's punt return unit as well. 

Essentially, for roster purposes, Martin has the position designation (ILB), but if he were ever to make it to a Pro Bowl, the Bowling Green product would be listed as an (ST) for special teams selection. 

Whether or not the Cardinals go out and sign a big-name inside linebacker this offseason or use a high-round draft pick on a player at Martin's official position doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, because those aren't the players he's necessarily competing with for a spot on the Cardinals' 53-man roster. 

In 2016, Martin made the Cardinals' roster for the first time in his career, but so did fellow special teams asset, inside linebacker, and undrafted rookie free agent Lamar Louis. Though Louis wouldn't last with the team, Arizona kept five inside linebackers on its active roster to start the season, even though the team only planned on using three of those players on defense during games. 

When Martin takes the field this fall, the Cardinals will evaluate him as an inside linebacker just as they do with every special teams player at other positions. If he can help the team in a desperate situation, that's an added bonus for Martin, but again, don't take this re-signing as an affirmation of his ability to command a defense.

During fall camp, Martin will once again have to prove himself, competing against the Ifeanyi Momah's and Stepfan Taylor's of the world as opposed to the Kevin Minter's and Deone Bucannon's. If Martin again showcases his value as a coverage specialist, a punt protector and a kickoff return blocker, his spot on the 53-man roster should be safe. If not, Martin will be out looking for work with another team.

Such is life in the NFL, where things are not always as they seem. Still, take the Cardinals' decision to sign Martin to a one-year contract extension for what it's worth. Arizona felt strongly enough about his capabilities as a special teams weapon that it wanted to get a deal done before he became a free agent, which is a great indication the Cardinals feel Martin can help their specialty units in the year ahead. 

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