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Idea of free agency is 'nerve-wracking' for Kareem Martin

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Kareem Martin doesn’t know what to expect in free agency.

The Arizona Cardinals’ 26-year-old outside linebacker understands the uncertainty of hitting the open market, which he’s scheduled to do on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, when the NFL’s new league year starts.

“It’s nerve-wracking,” Martin told ESPN. “It’s almost like how it was coming out [of college]. There’s really no guarantees. Now, I’m an older guy. I’m entering a free-agency pool where you got all these other free agents and you got the draft class coming in. It’s kind of nerve-wracking.”

However, the upside of being a free agent, Martin said, is “having more input” on where he spens the next few years or, even, the rest of his career.

Martin would be open to coming back to Arizona, he said.

“I love it here,” he said. “Arizona, the organization, has embraced me these last four years. They drafted me. I love this city. It’s a great place.”

It’s also where Martin has grown up as a football player.

He was drafted in the third round in 2014 out of North Carolina as a defensive end. But after his rookie season, the Cardinals moved him to outside linebacker. It took him two seasons to grasp his new role and begin to flourish. He had seven tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2015 and four tackles and one sack in 2016. By 2017, Martin had begun to fill out physically and understood the intricacies of the position.

“It’s night and day,” Martin said. “If I were to watch film from first year D-line and then to my first year at outside linebacker to now, it’s two totally different people. From body type to my understanding of everything, as far as the defense and how to play. Just working my craft and that’s the biggest thing; just honing my skills and being more confident out there is the biggest thing.”

However, there was one problem in 2017.

He entered the season playing behind Chandler Jones and Markus Golden in Arizona’s 3-4, multiple front scheme. Golden was coming off a 12.5-sack season in 2016 and Jones had 11 sacks. After Golden suffered a torn ACL in Week 4, Martin was called upon to fill Golden’s role.

He finished the season with 10 starts -- eight more than his previous career high -- and had a career-high 24 tackles with one sack. With Jones coming off a 17-sack season that led the NFL and Golden returning from his knee injury, Martin understands what his role would be if he returned to Arizona.

And while he has strong relationships with Jones and Golden, he’s keeping his eye on what else is available.

“You always want to play your options,” Martin said. “Those are two great players I got to learn from, great friends, great guys, but at the end of the day in this game, you got to take care of yourself and do what’s best for myself and my family.

“We’ll see what happens going forward with that.”