Has Martellus Bennett Played His Final Game as a Chicago Bear?

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On Tuesday, the Chicago Bears placed Tight End Martellus Bennett on season-ending IR with a rib injury finishing off what has been a down year for the Pro Bowl TE. Bennett finished his season well down from his stellar 2014 season. In 11 games this year, Bennett caught 53 passes for 439 yards and three scores. With Bennett entering the final year of his contract, the Bears could choose to go another direction in 2016.

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Bennett earned a spot at the Pro Bowl after a 2014 season that saw him catch 90 balls for 916 yards and six TDs. Entering this season with two years on his contract, Bennett wanted to parlay that season into more money but new GM Ryan Pace wouldn’t hear it. Pace refused to enter contract negotiations with Bennett and Martellus responded by skipping all non-mandatory offseason workouts, not exactly endearing himself to a new front office regime and a new coach in John Fox.

When Bennett finally showed up at Bears’ practices he seemed very disinterested and didn’t have much of anything positive to say to the media during his sessions with the press. When he did talk, he was very brash and basically told the media he was better than Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham and should be paid as such.

Once the season started, Bennett didn’t have many highlights, whether that was because of his attitude or just simply the way Adam Gase chose to use him in the offense is up for debate. As the season progressed, Bennett’s attitude seemed to worsen, bottoming out after the Thanksgiving game against the Green Bay Packers that he missed due to injury and told the media he didn’t even bother to watch the game on television.

Nov 15, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller (86) smiles towards the crowd after scoring a touchdown during a game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. The Bears won the game 37-13. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

While Bennett struggled, Zach Miller stepped up and appears to be a legitimate receiving threat for Jay Cutler. If he can stay healthy, Miller could figure into the Bears’ future plans. Bennett now enters the final year of his contract and if the Bears choose to move on, Miller may be their choice as the Bears TE of 2016 until they can find a younger option to groom for the future.

Bennett is owed $5.1 million next season and may be able to fetch the Bears a fifth round pick on the open market. If the Bears can’t find a trade partner they could cut Bennett outright and only be stuck with $1.1 million in dead money.

With Bennett’s attitude certainly an issue, especially assuming that Pace will not extend Bennett’s contract into 2017 (a very safe assumption), the Bears may want to drop Bennett and continue to churn the roster. On the other hand, Bennett may enter the season hungry for a new contract and put up big numbers so he can get one more big pay day on the open market before age catches up with him. Bennett is a very tough cookie to read and that will be Pace’s job this offseason.

Knowing how this new regime has treated me-first players and potential headaches, it’s more likely than not that Bennett is playing elsewhere in 2016. That could be a potential risk depending on what the Bears TEs look like next season with Miller’s injury risk but probably a smart one knowing how combustible Bennett can be in a locker room. Pace and Fox are not only developing talent on this roster, but they are also looking for a particular type of player that always puts the team first and plays hard on every down. That is not Martellus Bennett and the reason why you most likely won’t see No. 83 on the receiving end of any Jay Cutler throws in 2016.