FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Martellus Bennett’s daughter had her popcorn ready.
She put down the high-sided cardboard bucket in the end zone of the Patriots’ practice field to play with her parents — and, eventually, even Bears coach John Fox. Her father, never short on imagination, laid a red blocking pad on the turf and pulled Jett, who’s almost 2 ½, around by the rope attached to the back.
For 40 minutes, at least 50 sets of eyeballs — and maybe half as many cameras —watched from afar. They tried to gauge if Fox’s brief, upbeat conversation with him was polite or showed genuine affection. They wanted to see how Bennett interacted with Bears staffers and players — Sam Acho sat down on the grass —that stopped by to say hello.
Then it was time to speak to Bennett himself, five months after the Bears decided his sizable talent wasn’t worth his outsize locker room impact and dealt him to the Patriots for a fourth-round pick.
Only the tight end kept walking.
Bennett knows how to court media attention when it benefits him. After the Bears-Patriots joint practice, he refused to do so.
One day after Jay Cutler’s chilly response to whether he’d chatted with Bennett —”No, I missed that opportunity,” he deadpanned — Fox was warmer. He played with Bennett’s daughter and gave wife Siggi a hug.
“In this business, people change cities,” Fox said. “Coaches do it. Players do it. It’s part of this business. And so, there is no ill will. And there is nothing like that.
“Sometimes it doesn’t work out. There’s a business side. There’s a football side. There’s a bunch of things that happen over the course of a football career, so I still wish Martellus nothing but the best.”
When a Patriots staffer tried to get him to conduct interviews, Bennett told him he’d speak after Thursday night’s exhibition. He should: questions remain about his Chicago exit.
A truncated list: Why did he and brother Michael feel compelled to rip Cutler to ESPN? Does he regret sitting out last offseason and getting off on the wrong foot with GM Ryan Pace and Fox? After a murky finish — he stayed home from the Packers game on Thanksgiving night and later said he didn’t watch it live, and spent the last four weeks on Injured Reserve with a ribs injury — does he wish things had ended differently? Did he feel chastened by the trade?
The answers could reveal why the Bears decided to move a talent they haven’t come close to replacing.
Tuesday, Bennett flashed the same athleticism that intrigued his three previous employers, who nonetheless allowed their relationships with him to spiral toward divorce.
He also exuded the same nonchalance that used to cause former Bears coach Marc Trestman to run alongside Bennett after plays, hoping the tight end would decide to hustle his way back to the huddle.
Working one-on-one with quarterback Tom Brady near the goal line, Bennett did his best John Wayne mosey back toward the Hall of Famer after each catch. The duo totaled maybe five catches in three minutes. A frustrated fan, not yet aware of Bennett’s quirks, screamed at him to hustle up; a Bears linebacker did the same two years ago in camp.
Bennett was even involved in a fight. He wasn’t body-slamming Kyle Fuller this time —he did that to the rookie two years ago — but instead got his helmet knocked off and yapped at Bears outside linebacker Lamarr Houston.
Thus far, the Patriots seem pleased with Bennett, who is playing out the final year of his deal.
“It looks like he can do pretty much everything you want a tight end to do,” coach Bill Belichick said.
That includes being insightful, thoughtful and self-aware.
That is, when he wants to be.