When it was agreed early last season by both sides that defensive end Jared Allen was not working out in the Bears’ new 3-4 defensive scheme, the Bears worked with his agent to find an agreeable alternative, which turned out to be a trade to the Carolina Panthers for a sixth-round draft choice.
Last offseason the Bears were content to grant Brandon Marshall his ticket to New York and its NFL media opportunities, dealing the wide receiver and a seventh-round pick to the New York Jets for a fifth-round selection.
Now the Bears have granted another starter an exit visa, dealing unhappy 2014 Pro Bowl tight end Martellus Bennett along with a sixth-round pick (No. 204) to the New England Patriots in return for a fourth-round selection (No. 127) in the 2016 NFL Draft. The sixth-rounder is the one the Bears received from the Patriots in return for linebacker Jon Bostic last season.
“We will continue to pursue all avenues to make our team better as we prepare for the 2016 season,” General manager Ryan Pace said. “In a perfect world a trade is a win-win for both sides and we believe there is upside to all parties involved in this deal. We were able to acquire a higher pick to help us continue to build our team. We wish Martellus nothing but the best as he continues his career in New England.”
The trade nets the Bears a pick in the same round where they have selected players such as Alex Brown, Ka’Deem Carey, Jeremy Langford, Henry Melton, Kyle Orton and Nathan Vasher over the past 15 years.
It also gives the Bears something for a player that Pace had given permission to seek a trade, a step that typically signals to the league that the player will be released if no deal is forthcoming. It also follows the Bears reaching an agreement with Zach Miller on a two-year deal that potentially addresses some of the pass-catching firepower at the position.
The problem is that Bennett, when motivated, was one of the better all-around tight ends in the NFL, with enough size and speed to be a three-down tight end and not merely restricted to situational use.
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Bennett, who caught 65 passes in 2013 and 90 in 2014 before missing four games and finishing with 53 last season, has had his scrapes during his Bears tenure. He was suspended for a week and fined in 2014 after throwing rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller to the ground using Fuller’s facemask during a fight in practice. He stayed away for the entire offseason program last year in an effort to get a contract renegotiation following his 90-catch 2014 despite having two years remaining on the four-year deal, $20 million deal he reached with the Bears in 2013.
Bennett, due to make $5.185 million in 2016, including a $100,000 workout bonus, was unhappy with the tilt of the offense in the red zone toward Miller as 2015 played out and became a distraction in practice prior to the Thanksgiving game against the Green Bay Packers. He was placed on the inactive list for that game, surprising for a player who hadn’t missed a game in more than three seasons and who was back on the field the following game against the San Francisco 49ers.
A rib injury landed Bennett on injured reserve for the final three games, the first time in his eight-year career that he’d missed more than two games in an entire season.
Despite the glitches, Bennett finished tied for ninth among tight ends with his 53 catches in 2015.