With the glow of Super Bowl LI finally beginning to fade -- a little -- it's time to start looking ahead to 2017. Over the next few days, we'll look at the Patriots' to-do list: Things they need to care of as the offseason begins. Today: tight end Martellus Bennett.
What will Martellus Bennett do? What’s today? The soon-to-be-free agent has sent all manner of mixed messages about where he wants to play next season and what will inform his decision.
In the “he’s leaving” column are his statement that teams overpay for free agents who are “Super Bowl champs” and a couple of instances in the Patriots locker room this year when, completely unprompted, Bennett started a soliloquy about not being with the Patriots next season.
In the “he’s staying” column are Bennett’s comments that he loves it in New England, both for football and marketing opportunities for life after football.
PATRIOTS TO-DO LIST:
- First priority is to get their Gronk right
- To tag, or not to tag Hightower?
- Franchise tag window open until March 1
The Patriots paid Bennett more than $5 million last season and he’s collected more than $25M in his nine-year career.
For his line of work, resume and skill set, that’s very good but – at 30 – the sand is almost out of the big-earnings hourglass.
What did the Patriots get for their $5M in 2016? Good return. Bennett played every game (many with serious pain), caught 55 balls for 701 yards (the 12.7 YPC average his highest since 2008) and a career-high seven touchdowns. He was a pretty inconsistent blocker but some of that can be linked to playing hurt. He also caught 10 of the 11 passes sent his way in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl. Post-Gronk, the next tight end on the roster behind Bennett was Matt Lengel. And that was it. So the team should be damn happy it traded for him.
Going forward? The team will try to keep the term short and it has to be wary of the Rob Gronkowski landscape. Gronk’s making about $4.75M in salary and bonuses this season (his contracts balloons to salaries of $8M and $9M in 2018 and 2019). The top-tier tight ends are making more than $9M in salary.
With both those situations in mind, the Patriots should slide a three-year, $18M offer across to Bennett with $10M guaranteed and see what happens.
If a team out there decides it wants to blow Bennett out of the water, c’est la vie. The Patriots can comb the draft and free agency (Eagles RFA Trey Burton would be a very intriguing target since he’s marooned on the Eagles depth chart and is a special teams maven and crisp route-runner).
There should be no hard feelings on either side if Bennett goes someplace else. He was good for the Patriots and the Patriots were good for him. It’s on Bennett to decide if the relationship is more than a one-year stand.