Could any free agent TE replace Bears’ Martellus Bennett?

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Bears tight end Martellus Bennett is one year removed from the best tight end season in club history. (AP)

The Bears seem to have chosen professional behavior over Pro Bowl talent.

And if that sounds familiar, it is.

Friday’s ESPN report said the Bears were working with Martellus Bennett and his agent, Kennard McGuire, to find a place to trade the tight end. Exactly one year ago Sunday, the Bears and McGuire found a landing spot for another client, wide receiver Brandon Marshall, when they agreed to trade him to the Jets, along with a seventh-round pick, fore a fifth-rounder.

The Bears lost that trade on paper — the Pro Bowl receiver finished with 1,502 receiving yards, six shy of his career high, and a career-best 14 touchdowns, while the Bears selected the solid Adrian Amos— and would probably lose a Bennett trade, too.

With Bennett entering the final year of his deal, the Bears would be lucky to get back what they did for Marshall. Like he did when he dealt Marshall, GM Ryan Pace must have a plan to replace him.

On the free agent market, they won’t do any better than Bennett, either. When the negotiating period begins Monday, the Bears won’t find an available tight end more talented than a motivated Bennett.

Just two years ago, he set a Bears franchise record with 90 catches and made his first Pro Bowl. He had 53 catches for 439 yards last year, but annoyed his new bosses by staying away from offseason activities while asking for a new contract, and with a series of outbursts during the season before being placed on Injured Reserve in December.

He had remained mostly out of the public eye this offseason, though he was scheduled Saturday to speak on Orcas Island, near Seattle, in a series titled “ “Best of Both Worlds: the Potential in Polarity.”

The only available tight end to boast a better on-field resume than Bennett is Antonio Gates — and he’s not leaving the Chargers.

What’s left? Zach Miller, who caught a career-high 34 yards for 439 yards last season, could return to reprise his pass-first role. Pace said he was likely to test the open market before deciding on a team.

The Chargers’ Ladarius Green and the Colts’ Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are probably the top options remaining. Fleener, a Lemont native who went to Joliet Catholic, is an accomplished receiver, catching no fewer than 51 passes in each of the past three season. Allen, who had only 109 receiving yards last year, is considered a superior blocker and is a year younger than his teammate. The Colts can’t afford to keep both players.

Playing alongside Gates, Green has looked promising — but still has never topped 37 receptions. He posted that line last year after totaling only 40 combined in his first three seasons.

Free agent Benjamin Watson is 35 and Vernon Davis, who didn’t catch a single pass during the Broncos’ postseason run, is 32.

The Rams cut Jared Cook one season removed from a career year. But his stats in 2014 —52 catches for 634 yards — falls 17 catches and 70 yards shy of Bennett’s average during three seasons with the Bears.

Even if the Bears re-sign Miller, they’d likely need another blocking tight end, though, to team with likeminded backup Khari Lee.

Despite all the uncertainty, though, it’s telling that the Bears are leaning toward life without Bennett.

Because while the Bears might have lost the Marshall trade on paper, and they might again if they find a taker for the tight end, they gained something too.

Locker room peace is harder to quantify than statistics. But however the Bears measured détente after moving Marshall, one thing is clear: they liked it enough try it again.

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley


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