We all knew that tight end Jared Cook was on the way out in Green Bay after Cook and the Packers broke off contract negotiations, but we didn’t know the Packers would use free agency to find his replacement.
A replacement that was a definite upgrade, that is.
Green Bay announced on Friday that they agreed to a three-year, $21 million deal with free agent Martellus Bennett, who the Packers are familiar with because of Bennett’s four seasons with the Chicago Bears, the team’s top rival.
It was last off-season that the Bears traded Bennett to the New England Patriots where Bennett would go on to become a Super Bowl champion for the first time in his career. He and Rob Gronkowski formed one of the NFL’s top tight end duos, and Bennett was able to boost his production after a back injury for Gronkowski to undergo surgery and not be on the field for New England’s playoff run.
New England decided not to re-sign Bennett this off-season, and they made that clear after they agreed to a trade with the Colts for Dwayne Allen. This allowed the Packers to swoop in and grab the tight end on the market, and Pro Football Focus’ 20th best free agent.
After the Packers announced the deal, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky & Jason Wilde reported that the Packers were ready to prepare an offer to Cook that would’ve paid Cook more money than Bennett’s contract with the team. Not having to shell out more money to Cook could be a blessing in disguise for Green Bay, who still has TJ Lang and Eddie Lacy as highly coveted free agents this spring.
While Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers bonded well with Cook, he figures to bond just as well with Bennett. In an interview with Packers.com shortly after signing with the team, Bennett revealed that he used to hate playing against Rodgers, and that he had a phone call with the two-time NFL MVP shortly after coming to terms with the Packers:
“I hated playing against Aaron,” said Bennett with a laugh. “I just got off the phone with him, I said, ‘I hate that guy on the other side,’ but it’s going to be pretty good to be on the same side with him and catching passes. I’ve seen him make a lot of amazing throws and he’s been one of the best for a really long time. I’m just going to try to come in and contribute to the best of my ability.”
Bennett joins an impressive Packers wide receiving core that features Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, and Jordy Nelson, who coming off a torn ACL in 2016, was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy’s offense thrives on insanely high levels with a tight end that can stretch the field like Bennett.
Since 2013 including the playoffs, Bennett has been the hardest tight end to tackle, per Pro Football Focus. In the 1,872 routes Bennett has ran, he has broken 61 total tackles. The next closest on the list in terms of broken tackles is Tennessee’s Delaine Walker, who has broken 51.
Only Walker, Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, and Antonio Gates have caught more touchdowns since the time marking than Bennett, who has found the end zone 21 times in the three-year span and 30 times in his career. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Bennett is one of three tight ends with 40 catches in each of the last 5 seasons, joining Greg Olsen and Jason Witten.
The timing of Bennett’s contract with the Packers was also perfect, as he was celebrating his 30th birthday on the day he signed the dotted line.
Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards and 7 touchdowns in 16 regular season games for New England last year.
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