MARTELLUS BENNETT'S LEGACY OF DISAPPOINTMENT

Published: 8/16/2016 9:43:49 PM

Cp_rJAXW8AAa0in-(1).jpg(Dave Brown Photo) The empty podium where Martellus Bennett was scheduled to speak after Tuesday's practice. 

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — There is the physical superiority, the gifted intelligence, the stellar wit and the unmistakable flashes of brilliance. All of this feeds the heightened expectations, a consistent failure to meet them, dashed hopes and bitter disappointment, accompanied by finger-pointing and hurt feelings.
 
This is the life cycle of Martellus Bennett in the NFL.

Talk to a Cowboys fan about Bennett. Tell them how the NFL's Kanye West wants to “build hotels and win Super Bowls,” and they’ll tell you they’ve heard it before.

They’ll tell you about the excitement of pairing their rookie second-round tight end with Jason Witten, a likely Hall of Famer at the same position. They’ll tell you how he looked good in his first season, catching 20 passes for 283 yards with four touchdowns despite making only seven starts.
 
Then they’ll tell you that he never scored another touchdown in his final three seasons with Dallas. They’ll tell you about excuses. That he felt like the Cowboys couldn’t make the two-tight end offense work for him. They’ll tell you how he first disappeared into the anonymity of a blocking role and eventually disappeared off to the division rival New York Giants, a departure that broke no hearts in Texas. They’ll tell you he’s considered a frustrating draft bust.
 
Giants fans would also be disappointed with Bennett if only they could remember him. Bennett had four pretty good games in 2012, his only season in New York. Otherwise, his results were mixed at best. He started with a bang, as seems to be Bennett’s modus operandi, scoring touchdowns in each of his first three games, the first player in Giants history to do that. Then he more or less receded from the offense. After those first three games, Bennett had just one touchdown the rest of the season and only two games with more than 44 yards. He also had four games in which he made only one catch. The Giants lost two of their final three games that season, eliminating them from the playoffs. Bennett had just six catches for 57 yards in those games (an average of 2 catches for 19 yards).
 
Nonetheless, Bennett’s four solid efforts gave him enough promising game tape to earn a lucrative free-agent contract with the Bears. He set career highs for catches, yards and touchdowns in 2013, then made the Pro Bowl in 2014 with a career year. His stellar 2014 season is half the reason Bennett is now in Foxborough. The other half is the 2015 season, in which he regressed to the mean.
 
Bennett frustrated John Fox’s new coaching regime by skipping voluntary portions of off-season workouts in an attempt to parlay his Pro Bowl season into a new contract. Midway through the season he spoke to the Chicago media, giving the impression that he was unsatisfied with his role in the Bears offense. Bennett issued the following non-denial of his desire for more targets:
 
“When you say something, you become the a–hole, even if it's a valid point,” Bennett said. “So I just avoid drama. … They don't play the a–holes.”
 
The valid point Bennett preferred not to make wasn’t all that valid. At the time, he had roughly the same number of targets he’d had midway through his Pro Bowl year and was third in the league in tight end targets, trailing only Rob Gronkowski and the Panthers Greg Olsen.
 
During his time in Chicago, according to reports, Bennett managed to annoy two different coaching staffs. He drew criticism from teammates for failing to hustle, and even body slammed a rookie during training camp in 2014, drawing a suspension and fine from the team.

So far, Bennett has opened camp the way he typically busts into a new town — talking a big game and making big plays. The tight end might be leading all receivers in practice targets (it sure seems that way), and had three catches for 33 yards in the first half of the preseason opener. On the first day the Chicago media was in Foxborough, Belichick cued up a very quotable sound bite for reporters to transmit back to Illinois.
 
“It looks like he can do pretty much everything you want a tight end to do,” Belichick said. “He’s smart, very smart. He handles the formations and adjustments and things like that, which are a big part of our offense at that position. He handles those well and it’s been pretty easy.”
 
This is very similar to the language Belichick once used to describe another low-risk, high-reward, troubled player the Pats acquired from a frustrated seller: Randy Moss. Belichick put Moss at ease in 2007, in part by speaking highly of him to the media. Similarly the Patriots will set Bennett up to succeed. History suggests he will find a way to act like his old self.
 
Patriots reporters got a taste of that for the first time on Tuesday. On Monday, New England’s public relations staff had promised Boston and Chicago reporters that Bennett would speak on Tuesday. This is typically an indication that the player has agreed to speak at that time, as the Pats would not promise a player who doesn’t want to talk. Well, as dozens of reporters melted in the sun, Bennett lingered on the field playing with his family (which he has every right to do).
 
He was one of the last two or three players to leave, and did so without speaking to the reporters who waited for him. Given that Bennett spoke several times to Patriots PR staff during this time, it seems likely that he knew reporters were waiting for him alone. While local media have become accustomed to a charming straight shooter over the past few weeks, his act had clearly worn thin on the Bears press corps, who were not surprised when Bennett exited the field without so much as looking in the media’s direction.
 
If Bennett prefers not to talk, that's fine. His eight-year, three-city career can speak for itself. One thing his record tells us is that the other cleat always drops, and it’s only a matter of time before he and New England find themselves at odds with each other. The Patriots are hoping to squeeze out the first part of his NFL life cycle — the promise and the flashes of brilliance — before he can bring the bitterness, excuses and disappointment en route to a new, hopeful organization.
 
Dave Brown covers the Patriots for the Monitor. You can follow him on Twitter @ThatDaveBrown




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