Patriots

Bennett would rather enjoy the ride with Patriots than worry about next contract

Bennett would rather enjoy the ride with Patriots than worry about next contract

FOXBORO -- Martellus Bennett pulled his shoulder pads on over his head and neck, then spoke about the rain. 

"Like any human being, I have dark moments," he said. "But at the same time, I've always tried to look at the positive side of things and tried to grow. That's what it is. Without rain, there's no growth to the grass or the trees. We need the rain in order to grow. It's just part of nature. It's just who we are. In life we need the rain in order for us to grow as people."

There were rainy days in Dallas and New York for Bennett. It poured at times in Chicago. But if it wasn't for storms at his previous stops, he may have never landed in New England, traded from the Bears to the Patriots last offseason so that Chicago could turn a sixth-round pick into a fifth-rounder. 

MORE - Friday Bag: What's the latest on return of Patriots RB Dion Lewis? | Tom Brady giddy over the possibilities with Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski

Out of foul weather, opportunity has blossomed for the 6-foot-6, 275-pounder. Bennett now talks about having balance and tranquility in his life. He says he is in the right mental and emotional space. He acknowledges that he hasn't had this much fun in a long time playing football, and even his mom is happy with the way things are working out with his new team

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Through five games, Bennett has performed as the most well-rounded tight end in football. He's caved in defenders to clear space in the running game, and he's taken on talented edge-rushers in pass-protection. As a receiver, he's been a game-changer, pulling down 21 catches on 28 targets for 314 yards and four scores, three of which came last week during Tom Brady's return. A Houston-area high school basketball star who declared for the NBA draft before heading to Texas A&M, Bennett isn't simply using his size to post up on defenders, either. According to Pro Football Focus, he leads all tight ends with 221 yards after the catch. 

Bennett has found early chemistry with one of the most demanding quarterbacks in the history of football, and he now forms one half of a nightmare tight-end pairing with Rob Gronkowski. Things have worked out so well for both Bennett and the Patriots that the question has to be posed: What's next for him?

He's in the final year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Would he like to be here for the foreseeable future? 

He says he's not sure. 

"I haven't thought about that," he said Thursday from in front of his locker. "I've just kind of been enjoying . . . I'm at a point in my life where I'm just living in the moment now. Each day. Every day. You can ask any guy in here. Each day is a brand new day for me, and I'm just happy to be alive. Just happy to be living and have another chance to do all the things that I love. 

"For me, I haven't even thought about that. It's not something I want to think about, really. I just want to enjoy each game with my teammates and my friends on this team and go out there and ball."

Bennett's focus on the here-and-now makes him sound like a prototypical Patriot when the rest of him screams anything but.

He draws massive crowds of reporters on a weekly basis and is willing to delve into all manner of off-the-field topics, including his interest in NASA and outer space. In one of his first meetings with Patriots reporters, he quoted Dr. Seuss. In passing moments with media members, he'll reference Nickolodeon's "Rugrats," debate the proper way to handle a zombie apocalypse, and provide updates on what's going on with his company, The Imagination Agency.

Then there's his role as unofficial locker-room disc jockey. A true child of the 1990s, he's been known to blare anything from Missy Elliott to Juvenile to Tupac Shakur on the wireless speaker set up next to his locker. If the music hits him the right way, he'll groove like he's in the front row of a live show, or dance up on an unsuspecting teammate. Last week, Bennett mixed things up, playing an arrangement from the Harry Potter film series, then putting on a tune he created himself for a yet-to-be-produced ice show he calls "Wonder Town." He followed that up by bumping "Winter Wonderland," leading a couple of his teammates to roll their eyes. Others shook their heads and laughed. 

For Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Bennett's impact on the field has been the result of what can happen when a unique talent joins a diverse scheme. "I think," Belichick explained, "this is about what we thought it would be . . . His intelligence gives him a lot of versatility."

As for Bennett's impact in the locker room? It is what it is. Belichick hasn't made any obvious attempts to discourage Bennett's outspokenness, and the coach certainly hasn't docked Bennett any playing time for any of the things he's said. Only center David Andrews and guard Joe Thuney have played more offensive snaps thus far this season. 

"Each team has its own personality and chemistry," Belichick added. "I don’t think there’s any way you can orchestrate that as a coach, nor would I try to. Players are all individuals."

And perhaps none more so than Bennett, who wears a number of different hats inside the walls of Gillette Stadium. In his ninth NFL season, he has fit in with the Patriots as more than just someone who is comfortable making his teammates uncomfortable with his music selections.

He's someone who has a variety of interests, but his new co-workers have noted pride he takes in his craft.

"He's just a unique guy as far as the things that interest him," Patriots safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty said. "The guy has an animation company. He has a children's book. Just being around him, seeing his different passions, it's cool. But once he's in this building, he's all football.

"I think from the outside, people always look at athletes like if you do anything else it means you don't focus on your career or your sport or your job. But you see him, I think the early part of the season it's shown he's really done everything for us at tight end -- everything we've needed . . . Especially with Gronk not being out there as much. He's been a true pro."

He's a veteran with certain tricks of the trade that he says he tries to pass on.

"I remember Tony Romo used to say some s--- to me, like, 'Be urgent, but don't rush,' " Bennett said. "I'm like what the f--- is he talking about? It wasn't until my sixth year in the league that I got it. Oh. Be urgent, but don't rush. I say the same s--- now."

He's a fresh set of eyes, who encourages his teammates to come up for air during the crush of the season. 

"He's big on not being pigeon-holed and being just an athlete or just a football player," said Bennett's locker mate, fullback James Develin. "There's more out there to life for us. If we had dreams outside of football, follow that. I've really valued the talks that we've had about stuff outside of football . . . I'm a single-track minded kind of guy. I try to stay focused on the task at hand. But it's nice to just be refreshed and reminded, like, 'Hey, there's more out there to life than just football.' "

He's a laugh waiting to happen, teammates explain, keeping things light in a building that prides itself on the grinding nature of its weekly routine. 

"I think he's been really good since a guy like [Jerod] Mayo hasn't been here," McCourty said. "Mayo was the kind of guy that was happy-go-lucky every day, cracking on everyone. You see him on TV. That's how he was in here every day. Cracking jokes. 

"[Bennett]'s been a nice addition to the locker room as far as having that guy that's always happy, always joking around. That's him. Whether before we go to practice, he'll go ahead and play his playlist, or he's walking around in here wearing sunglasses sometimes. It's just him. I think it's good because it's real. It's him."

He's himself. It's working in the locker room, and on the field the Patriots couldn't ask for more. He's been particularly effective when aligned with Gronkowski, whose first encounter with Bennett -- which occurred in the offseason at the Unbreakable Performance Center in Los Angeles -- reads like a fairy tale for bros.

"When I first saw him actually, I saw some big dude working out," Gronkowski said. "I didn’t even know it was him. I knew who Martellus was and everything, but I just didn’t recognize him at the slight moment. I was like, ‘Man, that dude is huge.’ I was like, ‘Who is that?’ and they were like, ‘That’s Martellus Bennett,’ and I was like -- I looked at him again and I was like, ‘Damn, that dude is huge.’ So I went up to him and talked to him and then, boom."

Ever since, they've been pals. Gronkowski has helped Bennett adjust to the Patriots offense, and he's provided Bennett with a roof over his head and a couch to sleep on when Bennett was looking to stay somewhere close to the stadium one Saturday earlier this season.

"That's the kind of guy [Gronkowski] is, though," Bennett said. "'Hey, you can crash at my house!' I'm like, 'All right, bro! Thank you!' He's just a great teammate, great person. We haven't been together that long, but it feels like we've known each other a long time."

If the Patriots want to keep the duo together for the next few years, it will be pricey.

Gronkowski is under contract through 2019, and while he's not the highest-paid tight end in the league, he is among them, with a contract that has an average annual value of $9 million. If Bennett continues to play at this level, he'll command a hefty price tag of his own, even at 30 years old and entering his 10th NFL season in 2017. 

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen signed a three-year, $22.5 million extension with $12 million guaranteed and an average annual value of $7.5 million during the 2015 offseason, just before his 30th birthday. Given their similarities in age and durability -- Olsen has missed just two games in his career, while Bennett has missed only nine -- that could be the kind of deal Bennett is considering come season's end. 

It's hard to imagine that his imagination hasn't flirted with the idea of what his next contract will look like, but Bennett insists that's the case. He's focused on the good thing he has going in New England, taking a day-by-day approach that his coach has preached since long before Bennett arrived. 

"I think it's a little easier to have [that approach] in this environment than it is in other environments," he said. "I don't know why. It just felt that way just from the beginning. It's a good fit. Sometimes you put on a size 36 when you know you're a 38. But some jeans fit and some jeans it's like, 'Whoa! This s--- don't fit!'

"I'm not worried about it. I only play football because it's fun. I don't have to play football. This is just fun. I'm having a lot of fun. This is why I play the game, to have fun. I mean, you play to win, but s---, ultimately, what's a sport that's not fun? If you can't go out there with your bros, like growing up, and just play football like in high school or pick-up? That's fun. And I don't take that for granted because they don't come around as often as you think."

Indeed, for Bennett, New England has represented a unique opportunity in his career. He's in a system with a solid foundation that has given him a chance to showcase his unique talents. He's playing under a coaching staff that has provided him with a role, and he's in a place where expectations are well-defined. He's with a team that has allowed him to be himself off the field while helping him to open eyes on it. 

There may be rainy moments for Bennett ahead. He admits they still come around from time to time. But, right now, with the Patriots, those seem to be few and far between. 

"S---, I'm just watering my seeds now," he said. "I got a little bucket. I got a little kettle bucket thing. I'm watering with that right now." 

Sources: Patriots not interested in bringing back Antonio Brown

Sources: Patriots not interested in bringing back Antonio Brown

Once bitten, twice shy.

Two sources with knowledge of the Patriots thinking scoffed at the idea Antonio Brown would rejoin the Patriots this season.

When one source was asked if there was a chance the wideout – who was with the Patriots for less than two tumultuous weeks in September – might have a chance at rejoining the team, this was the two-word response.

“What’s changed?”

I mentioned Brown’s social media apology to owner Robert Kraft earlier in the week and his meeting last week with the NFL as possibly changing the equation.

I was told that it does not.

At issue aren’t hurt feelings that Brown couldn’t fix with a few keystrokes. It’s the wariness of something else cropping up down the road.

When the Patriots signed Brown, there was no advance notice from Brown’s agent Drew Rosenhaus that Brown was on the cusp of being slapped with a lawsuit by his former trainer Britney Taylor even though the legal wrangling between Brown and Taylor’s attorneys had been going on for months.

And while it was subsequently reported Rosenhaus couldn’t break a confidentiality agreement Brown supposedly had in place, the fact that the Patriots entered into the Brown experience not knowing at all that that bombshell was waiting to explode makes them unwilling to go down the same road again.

Florio: If Patriots don’t sign Antonio Brown, "somebody else will">>>

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Patriots Talk Podcast: Mike Florio on Antonio Brown situation; Robert Kraft-Jerry Jones rivalry

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Patriots Talk Podcast: Mike Florio on Antonio Brown situation; Robert Kraft-Jerry Jones rivalry

Tom E. Curran is joined by Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, who discusses the latest on Antonio Brown's legal situation and a potential reunion with the Patriots, as well as New York Times journalist Mark Leibovich — author of the book "Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times" — who talks about the off-field rivalry between Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones, in this new episode of Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast.

4:09 — Tom Curran is joined by Mike Florio to talk about the emerging new details of Antonio Brown's legal situation and how it relates to his possible return.

12:22 — Mike explains why the NFL's disciplinary system for players who violate the league's personal conduct policy is not fair.

14:52 — Will the Patriots try to resign Antonio Brown if he is cleared? Tom and Mike discuss how close the wide receiver actually is to making a return to football and why the Patriots might go after him.

21:46 — Tom is joined by author and journalist at the New York Times Mark Leibovich to discuss the off-the-field rivalry between Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones.

28:12 — Is there inherent jealousy between the two owners based on their own success?

33:40 — Mark gives his take on the Patriots' upcoming matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.