It was reported earlier last week that the Green Bay Packers had waived prize free agent tight end Martellus Bennett, which seemed to come out of nowhere at the time. Bennett had signed a 3-year $21 million deal with the Packers shortly after winning a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, where he was an integral part of their success, especially after the team lost Rob Gronkowski for the season midway through the year. He hadn’t been having the same success this season as in years past, as prior to being waived by Green Bay he only had 21 catches for 195 yards in 7 games played, failing to score a single touchdown. Bennett also announced over an Instagram story that he was probably going to retire at the conclusion of this season. When Bennett was waived, the Packers cited “failure to disclose” as their reasoning because it turns out that Bennett’s rotator cuff required surgery. Shortly after, Bennett explained on another Instagram story that he had been having issues with his shoulder for a while, which came to a head in the Packers’ October 8th win over the Dallas Cowboys (which was actually his highest yardage output all season at 53 yards). Bennett claimed that Packers team physician Dr. Patrick McKenzie was pressuring him to play through the shoulder injury, something Bennett was wary of doing. He then said the Packers tried to “fuck (him) over” and tried to get out of his contract by waiving him because of the injury. He was then claimed by the Patriots and played in Sunday night’s game against the Denver Broncos, not even a week after his release. So what gives?
Bennett has never struck me as the type of guy who would fake an injury to get off a team. Quite the opposite. He’s a very moral dude who writes children’s books and is a big advocate for players using their platforms as professional athletes to do some good in the world. He’s been one of Colin Kaepernick’s most outspoken supporters and, from what I hear from teammates, is a pretty stand-up guy. But you have to admit, this does sound strange. As a Patriots fan, I am very excited to have Martysaurus Rex (that’s his Twitter handle, not a nickname I’m trying to invent) back on the team. He’s a world class tight end who was an integral part of the team’s championship run last season. Ignore his stats on the Packers, tight ends have never done great under Mike McCarthy, just look at the uber-talented JerMichael Finley, who was about as gifted a tight end as I have ever seen (short of Gronk) but never seemed to put it all together. Or Bubba Franks, who was a pro bowler before McCarthy and Rodgers got there and fizzled hard after their arrival. He can still contribute, and he had 3 catches for 38 yards in the Patriots 41-16 win over the Broncos.
But I still find it odd that this guy is playing for the Patriots right now after it was speculated that his season (and possibly career) was likely done. Hell, Dr. McKenzie, whom Bennett said was pressuring him to play through the injury, has a reputation for being overly cautious about letting players return from injury, often to the point of resentment from the players. Everyone in the Packers’ organization came to the defense of Dr. McKenzie after Bennett’s Instagram story, such as Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson. Rodgers has had several injuries in his career and is currently nursing a broken collarbone and Jordy Nelson missed an entire season to a torn ACL a couple of years ago and both of these guys deny that Dr. McKenzie ever tried rushing them back. A lot of conspiracy theorists believe that Bennett and Patriots coach Bill Belichick colluded to get him back to Foxboro and if you didn’t know Bennett’s character, this would seem very possible, if not entirely probable. I’m not going to sit here and say I know Marty, all I really know about his character is through following him on social media and from what I hear from people who do know him. But if this is the case, some repercussions will be coming New England’s way.
The penalty for tampering, which is what this situation is, typically comes at the price of a mid-round draft pick and/or a fine. When the Jets were found guilty of tampering to sign Darrelle Revis away from the Patriots after the 2014 season, their punishment was a $100,000 fine. When the Chiefs were found guilty of tampering to sign Jeremy Maclin away from the Eagles in the 2016 offseason, their punishment was the loss of a third round pick in 2016 and a sixth rounder in 2017. Fines were also handed out to the Chiefs ($250,000), head coach Andy Reid ($75,000) and GM John Dorsey ($25,000). Not very consistent in their punishments, but that’s Roger Goodell’s NFL for you. The league has said they are not investigating the Bennett situation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other owners try and force their hand. So if they do change their minds and find the Patriots guilty of tampering with Bennett, then I have to imagine the penalty will be on the severe side like it was with Kansas City, given the Patriots’ history of issues with the league (whether they were warranted or not).
So what do I think happened? I would find it surprising if Bennett actively forced his way out of Green Bay because that’s just not the type of person he is. However I do admit that there may be some elements of this story that haven’t been made public because this whole thing sounds rather suspect. It would be a real slimy move on Bennett’s part if he did fake an injury in order to get himself out of Green Bay to play for a Super Bowl contender in the Patriots, which the Packers no longer are after losing Rodgers for the season. Quite frankly, I don’t think we’ve heard the end of this saga.