GREEN BAY — Martellus Bennett’s time with the Green Bay Packers was brief — and extremely disappointing. It ended Wednesday in bizarre fashion, as the Packers cut the veteran tight end and set the stage for recouping some of the money they clearly feel they wasted on him.
Meanwhile, a number of his now ex-teammates are wondering what went awry — and whether Bennett quit on them as soon as they lost two-time NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers to an Oct. 15 broken right collarbone.
Coincidence or not, that loss to the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium — Bennett, ironically, was Rodgers’ intended receiver on the fateful play and dropped the pass — was the beginning of the end for Bennett in Green Bay.
According to the official NFL transaction wire, the 30-year-old Bennett was waived with a “failed to disclose a medical condition” designation, and an NFL source said the Packers used that because they believe Bennett had a pre-existing shoulder condition when they signed him to a three-year, $21 million free agent deal in March.
Had Bennett decided to retire after the season — as he said he might in a seemingly out-of-nowhere social media post during the bye week — the club likely would have gone after the $4.2 million unamortized portion of the $6.3 million guaranteed signing bonus Bennett received. Now, the Packers can try to get a refund on all of Bennett’s 2017 pay, which is roughly $8 million.
Bennett had already been ruled out by coach Mike McCarthy on Wednesday morning from playing in Sunday’s game at Chicago. Bennett started the team’s first seven games and caught 24 passes for 233 yards, but he was inactive because of the shoulder injury for Monday night’s loss to Detroit. He was not on the Packers’ sideline during that game.
On Oct. 28, Bennett posted to his Instagram account that he was “pretty sure” that the Packers’ post-bye week games would be his last in the NFL and that he would retire after the season. Everything began to unravel after that.
Bennett returned with the rest of the team on Oct. 31 and took part in practice that day. Then, last Thursday, Bennett mysteriously missed practice with a shoulder injury. He did not practice on Friday or Sunday, either, then didn’t play against the Lions. According to one source, Bennett went to his suburban Chicago home late last week. McCarthy said Bennett was in Green Bay on Tuesday meeting with the medical staff.
Asked directly after Monday night’s game whether Bennett’s shoulder injury happened during that Oct. 31 practice or before that, McCarthy cryptically answered, “Just everything as far as the medical information being gathered was post-practice Tuesday.”
That answer would indicate Bennett never mentioned the shoulder injury until after that practice. That day, Bennett left the locker room telling reporters he wouldn’t be talking with them because there was “nothing to talk about. Asked why he was contemplating retirement, Bennett replied, “Life.”
The Packers were Bennett’s fifth team in a 10-year career, as he played four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, one season with the New York Giants, three seasons with the Bears and one season with the New England Patriots, winning the Super Bowl last year.
He seemed to find a comfort zone in Green Bay initially, hitting it off with Rodgers, promoting his off-the-field endeavors (children’s books, smart-phone apps and artwork with the Imagination Agency), and expressing his views on politics and social issues.
But his sudden disappearance after Rodgers’ injury led multiple players to wonder whether Bennett quit on them in the wake of the quarterback’s injury.
“It’s hard not to think anything other than that,” said one player contacted after the news broke. Said another: “It’s just weird.”
And now, it’s over.
Bennett is subject to waivers, so any team can put a claim in on him before 3 p.m. today. If he goes unclaimed after that, he is free to sign with any team and continue playing. Without Bennett, who started all seven games he played in, the Packers will go with Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers at tight end.
“The other guys have proven they can do it as well,” tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said last week when asked about not having Bennett. “So if Marty is there, great. If Marty’s not, the other guys are ready to go.”