DENVER -- If it's physically possible for Martellus Bennett to use his injured shoulder, the Patriots could use him as early as Sunday night against the Broncos.
That may seem like asking a lot of the 6-foot-6, 275-pounder. He was recently making plans to have his shoulder surgically prepared. Then he was waived. Then he ended up in New England, where he quickly went from wanting to go under the knife to "[bleep] it."
According to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, there's a "good chance" Bennett will play tonight:
This story keeps getting more interesting. Source says there is a good chance Martellus Bennett plays tonight for the #Patriots. It’s the expectation. Three days on the roster & now on the field.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 12, 2017
Just in order to practice on Friday, Bennett would have had to be given the OK from the Patriots medical staff. He's listed as questionable to go against Denver.
But if this is a pain management issue for Bennett, it's plausible he'll be in a huddle with Tom Brady tonight. Bennett played through myriad injuries for the Patriots in 2016 so there's little reason to think that he won't try to do so again this season. Judging by his recent statements via Instagram story, he seems willing.
Here are five quick-hitting reasons why if Bennett can play, he should . . .
* He knows the offense. Normally when it comes to these types of midseason acquisitions, the barrier to playing time is one's understanding of the system. But that's not a barrier that should require all that much effort to surpass for Bennett. He was, after all, running the Patriots offense in February. Does that mean the entirety of the Patriots playbook will be opened up for him? That might be a bit much. The offense has some new pieces and so certain situations could take some getting used to. But would it be surprising to see Bennett used to help chip in pass-protection, or in goal line or red zone packages? Of his seven touchdown grabs last season, all but one came inside the red zone, and four came from inside the 10-yard line. If given a set number of plays to run in those spots, Bennett shouldn't have much trouble understanding his responsibilities.
* He could help the Patriots solve some of their recent red-zone woes. The Patriots have just 17 touchdowns in 34 red zone trips this season, and their work inside the 20 was highlighted by both Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady as an area they hoped to improve upon during the bye. With Chris Hogan (shoulder) out, having someone with Bennett's frame should only improve their efficiency deep in opponents' territory. On multiple occasions last season, Brady was willing to throw passes Bennett's way even when he was well-covered. A five-yard touchdown last season against the Browns and a 19-yard score against the Ravens were both good examples of defenders blanketing Bennett but unable to defeat his size.
* He poses a threat that other Patriots tight ends behind Rob Gronkowski don't. If Bennett is on the field against the Broncos, their defense will at least have to respect his dual-threat ability as a receiver and blocker. At the moment, neither Dwayne Allen nor Jacob Hollister would put the same kind of scare into Vance Joseph's defense. Allen hasn't been targeted since Week 4, and he does not have a catch on the season. Hollister has given the Patriots more than Allen as a receiver, but he's not quite the same threat to move people in the running game. Bennett, at his best, can be both, which would stress an opponent more than Bill Belichick's other non-Gronkowski options at the same spot.
* He's immediately their best Gronkowski fill-in. One of the benefits to having Bennett on the roster isn't just that he makes a formidable duo with Gronkowski. It's that if something should happen to Gronkowski, Bennett gives the team a reasonable replacement. That's exactly what he did last season when Gronkowski suffered a season-ending back injury. Before Bennett's arrival, if Gronkowski had gone down, then the Patriots offense would have likely been significantly reduced. Now that Bennett is back in the fold, even if the team is forced to go without Gronkowski for any extended period of time, the team will still theoretically have many of the same looks available to them. If the options at tight end were limited to Allen and Hollister, that probably wouldn't be the case.
* The Broncos are one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to defending tight ends. For as good as Denver has been this season defensively -- last week's letdown against the Eagles notwithstanding -- they've struggled against opposing tight ends all season. Accoding to Football Outsiders, they're 25th in the NFL at defending tight ends, allowing almost 76 yards per game on almost eight targets. That should mean a big night for Gronkowski, of course, but it also might make Sunday the perfect time to reintroduce Bennett to the rotation.