Martellus Bennett’s well-known off-the-field issues – from body-slamming a first-round pick to publicly calling out his quarterback more than once to various spats with two coaching staffs — put the Bears at a disadvantage.
Some around the league doubted that a trade could be reached for the mercurial tight end, regardless of his on-the-field talents.
But general manager Ryan Pace had nine draft picks at his disposal. More specifically, Pace had three in the sixth round of this year’s draft after trading linebacker Jon Bostic to the Patriots and defensive end-turned-outside linebacker Jared Allen to the Panthers early during the 2015 season.
On Wednesday, Pace used one of those sixth-round picks to finally trade Bennett. The Bears acquired a fourth-round selection from the Patriots in exchange for Bennett and the 204th overall pick — the sixth-rounder originally acquired for Bostic. The Bears maintain their nine selections, gaining the 127th overall pick.
In New England, the trade is viewed as a significant gain. The Patriots can now run the two tight-end sets they’ve wanted since Aaron Hernandez’s notorious departure. Bennett and star Rob Gronkowski, the NFL’s best tight end, will present plenty of problems for opposing defenses. The Patriots’ strong culture is expected to be able to keep Bennett in line as it did when receiver Randy Moss and running back Corey Dillon were added after their documented problems.
But for the Bears, saying bye to Bennett was matter of when, not if. It was an inevitable move. The only question was whether Pace could find a trade partner and receive something decent in return.
Bennett’s issues with this Bears regime began when he skipped the voluntary portions of coach John Fox’s first offseason program because he wanted to redo his contract. He returned only when he would have been fined otherwise.
That move put Bennett on the trading block last offseason. Similar to receiver Brandon Marshall, Bennett also had issues with former coach Marc Trestman’s staff, albeit in less spectacular fashion.
Bennett managed to keep a low profile for most of last season, but his desire for a new contract remained. His frustrations publicly boiled over on Nov. 4, when he questioned his role in coordinator Adam Gase’s offense. It came after he had three catches for 32 yards in a loss to the Vikings.
“I just kind of keep my head down and go to work,” Bennett said at the time. “Because when you say something, you become the a–hole, even if it’s a valid point. So I just avoid drama. … They don’t play the a–holes.”
Bennett’s words fell on deaf ears. At that point in the season, Bennett had 58 targets, the third-most in the league at his position.
As Zach Miller’s role and success grew, Bennett’s own production decreased — and the issues snowballed. Sources said members of the organization grew increasingly frustrated with Bennett.
Bennett was put on injured reserve because of a fracture rib, and that can be viewed as the end result of that friction because he prides himself on being able to play through most injuries.
Bennett sat out the Bears’ Thanksgiving-night win against Packers. He later said he didn’t watch the Bears’ victory on television. Bennett returned Dec. 4 against the 49ers and had three catches for 14 yards. Four days later, he was put on IR.
During his three seasons with the Bears, Bennett ranked fifth among tight ends in receptions and seventh in receiving yards. In that regard, Bennett, a Pro Bowl alternate in 2014, outperformed the four-year, $20.4 million contract he signed in 2013.
But the Bears weren’t going to give him a new deal. His words and actions didn’t fit with what Pace and Fox are building. It was best to move on, and that’s what the Bears finally did.
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