By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — In case you hadn’t heard, Martellus Bennett and the Green Bay Packers underwent a conscious uncoupling last week, and the fallout continues to be messy.
Bennett besmirched the Packers’ team doctor, suggesting the team didn’t have his best interests in mind and only saw him as a potentially large cap hit in 2018. Packers players past and present responded in kind by rushing to support the doctor and, consequently, condemning Bennett and his claims.
Meanwhile, Bill Belichick swooped in and added the player to the Patriots roster, thereby dumping a barrel of gasoline onto the fire that was already raging.
As you might imagine, the whole soap opera has got people talking.
Opinions are across the board. Many outraged Wisconsinites have accused Bennett of quitting on the team. This is a partly true claim, but then again, it was the Packers who released Bennett, thus lending credence to Bennett’s claim that the player-team spat was all about money.
Many in New England might believe the Patriots did absolutely nothing wrong in claiming the available player on the waiver wire, which is mostly true. Nevertheless, Bennett admitting that he told his agent to tell teams not to claim him because of his injury, only to be claimed by the Patriots, will surely be added to the long list of things done by Belichick that enrages so many people from coast to coast.
The truth, from this perspective, is easy to see: Bennett’s shoulder is actually injured, and when doing the arithmetic in his head, the 30-year-old weighed how much he’d get out of continuing to do damage to his shoulder in frigid Green Bay for the next two months for a Packers team that is destined to go 8-8 without Aaron Rodgers. To Bennett, enduring that kind of physical punishment was not worth it. The Packers thought it would be worth it for the tight end to continue to damage his shoulder, on account of his $6.3 million signing bonus. Thus, a disagreement was born.
At the same time, after getting a taste of being a part of a championship team last year, Bennett likely did the math and determined that yes, it would be worth enduring eight to 10 more weeks of pain and shoulder damage if it could lead to another Super Bowl won with Belichick and Tom Brady.
And that decision may be more about business than it is about trophies.
For some insight into how Bennett thinks, let’s go to the man himself. No, we can’t really go to what he’s saying now, because he’s in a bit of a compromised position. Instead, let’s go to something Bennett said prior to Super Bowl LI, when he was discussing his future options as an NFL player.
“I feel like I’ve been awesome for a really long time. Like, I didn’t just become myself this year. You know, see, I’ve been the same guy for a long time. But like, when you’re winning, it’s like you’re even more awesome,” Bennett said on Feb. 2 at the Patriots’ team hotel in Houston. “It’s like you’ve got that cake that’s really good but does not have icing on that cake. And everybody wants a piece of the cake. And it’s like, everybody wants to be associated with winners.”
Bennett, in his own unique way, was revving up to his main point.
“When you try to get endorsements, it’s easier when you’re with a winning team, because every company wants to associate with winners,” he stated plainly. “They don’t do commercials like, ‘We’ve got the five-time non-playoff guy on the TV screen, but he’s great! You should wear the shoes that he’s wearing!’ They don’t do that, you know? ‘Oh, go eat what he eats. He’s definitely a loser!’ Everybody wants to push winners, because winners sell better. So I think there is something to be said about that.”
Bennett, as has been well-publicized, holds interests outside of the sport of football. He runs The Imagination Agency, has authored a children’s book, and has outspokenly encouraged kids to think of themselves as more than just potential athletes. A football field is not the end game for Martellus Bennett.
Clearly, Bennett’s interests extend far beyond football, and he remains keenly in tune with putting himself in the best position to explore those interests when his playing days are over. He said it as plainly as it can be stated.
And when he talked in February, he said that New England did work well for him in that department.
“I love New England, I love the people, I love the fans. I think it’s something super great, not only on the field but off the field, I’ve been able to do a lot of stuff in the community in a very short time,” he said in February. “I just love the people — the football team’s good too. But it’s very rare that you find a community that embraces you. … One of my nicknames is ‘Everyone’s BFF’ [Best Friend Forever]. So, I feel like in Boston and Massachusetts, I feel like I am everyone’s BFF.”
Bennett admitted in February that salary has a lot to do with where a player signs, and that’s likely why he signed in Green Bay. But he also discussed the longer-term implications of deciding an NFL home.
“But, you know it’s like, what is your motive right now? What are you doing? Is it championships or is it a place where you can build your legacy to do things after football? Like, hey, this is where I want to build — I mean, I’ll probably retire in four years, so is this where I want to live in four years? Should I do that in Jacksonville? Probably not,” he said. “So it’s just kind of like, just a bunch of things, families, schools, there’s so much [stuff] that goes into it. It’s crazy. It’s tough.”
It’s a decision into which he clearly put quite a bit of thought. Ultimately, he chose Green Bay. Largely due to Rodgers’ injury, it didn’t work out. And so with limited time left in the NFL, he managed to do what almost no players in that league are able to accomplish: he took care of himself.
While you wish he could have done so without casting aspersions on the Packers team doctor, the fact is that most owners aren’t ever looking out for the players’ best interest. Just like he is in so many other areas, Bennett managed to be different from most NFL players by taking care of himself.
The opinions are sure to continue, especially if he keeps catching passes from Brady in New England victories, but at least you know where his interests lie.