The Curious Case of Martellus Bennett
Martellus Bennett has not been a happy Chicago Bear for about a year.
It was a year ago that Ryan Pace and John Fox were brought in to run the Chicago Bears franchise, and it was about a year ago that Pace and Fox started ignoring Martellus Bennett’s request for a contract extension.
Bennett was coming off two tremendous seasons in 2013 and 2014 and was looking to cash-in, despite the Bears still controlling him for two more years at a very reasonable salary. Bennett’s contract had little to no guaranteed money left and he was looking to take advantage of his production and secure more guaranteed money and extend his deal beyond 2016.
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But Pace had other ideas. He wanted Bennett to continue to play out his contract and then consider re-signing him. He wasn’t sure if a player that was going to be 29 at the end of his current contract was worth extending. More so, Pace also had concerns that Bennett, who had a history of giving franchises headaches, would become a problem down the line and they would be locked into a rocky relationship with more guaranteed money.
So Pace refused to engage in contract talks and Bennett moped because of it. Bennett skipped OTAs and when he was required to show up he was in a bad mood and he pouted. There was hope that Bennett’s production would improve once there regular season was in full swing, but what we saw was inconsistency, mistakes, and Bennett’s worst season as a Chicago Bear. Bennett was banged up at the end of the year and admitted he didn’t even bother to watch the team’s win over the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving night- not exactly the type of attitude that Pace and Fox like.
It’s 2016 and it’s a new season for the Chicago Bears and Ryan Pace is making decisions as to what players he should keep moving forward. Bennett is one that Pace will have to consider long and hard.
There are plenty of reasons not to keep Bennett. Bennett’s injury and lack of production may show a player who is starting to slip or one that doesn’t fit well in the Bears’ new offense. It may be that his attitude swallowed up his production and his sour mentality spilled out onto the field. There is also Zach Miller to consider.
Miller had his best season as a pro in 2015 tallying 439 yards and 5 touchdowns. He became one of Jay Cutler’s favorite targets and there is reason to believe that could continue in 2016. However, is Miller a reason to just release Bennett? Miller has battled significant injury problems before last season, he’s older than Bennett, and perhaps Miller’s 2015 was just lightning in a bottle. If the Bears commit to Miller and let Bennett walk and Miller struggles or gets injured in 2016, they are going to have serious problems at tight end.
So while Miller is a reason to release Bennett, he’s also a reason to keep him. The Bears could save some money if they let Bennett go, but they have plenty of salary cap space to work with this season anyway. Pace isn’t going to go out and blow millions upon millions on aging free agents. He’s looking to build with youth, so money in 2016 isn’t a problem.
There is also the chance that Bennett’s sour attitude could continue in 2016 and he’ll create nothing but headaches for the Bears in his final year of his contract.
But then there’s a chance Martellus Bennett could shine.
That’s right. What is the one thing we’ve learned about Bennett in the last 365 days? Bennett is motivated by money. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s not an insult to Bennett. We all are motivated by money to a certain degree. None of us show up at our jobs every week out of the goodness of our own hearts. Bennett has had one nice pay day, but he is looking for one more contract that is going to give him long-term financial security. If the Bears release Bennett, he isn’t going to receive that based on his 2016, he is going to receive a one-year prove it deal from an NFL team.
So whether that means Bennett will find himself in a Bears uniform or another uniform in 2016, he is going to know that this is his last opportunity to receive a payday. At 29 years of age, there are plenty of contending teams that would be willing to give Bennett a shot. He can be an asset to an offense as we have seen in Chicago.
So perhaps Pace wants to take advantage of this situation. Perhaps he knows that keeping Bennett for one more year, with zero plans to re-sign him is going to motivate Bennett. It’s going to motivate him to go out there and play like he did for the New York Giants in 2012. Perhaps the Bears can exploit the situation and get one more fantastic year out of Bennett as he seeks the cash he feels he deserves.
The argument to both keep and jettison Bennett are strong ones. Towards the end of last season, I thought for certain the right move was to cut Bennett, but as I’ve continued to ponder the situation, I’ve realized there’s really no reason to do so. The Bears have proven that they’ll make moves midseason, and if the salary cap isn’t a factor right now, what harm can it really do to keep him?
Like I said, Bennett is going to be motivated to get paid. If he isn’t and he slacks in training camp and Miller shines, the Bears simply can cut Bennett. If he becomes a headache in September or October- they can cut Bennett, just like they did with Jeremiah Ratliff.
The more I consider it, the pros do outweigh the cons, but for Pace, if the cons do eventually win, the Bears can part ways with Bennett with very little impact on their future. The Bears will make a decision on Bennett soon, and there is still a good chance that Pace decides to go another direction. But with a payday on the horizon, a motivated Bennett would be an asset to the Bears’ 2016 offense and that’s a risk that any GM should be willing to take.