After sitting out the first week without signing an unrestricted free agent, the Patriots quickly became the talk of the new league year with a series of surprising moves that included sending Chandler Jones to the Cardinals and crested with Wednesday’s trade to acquire Bears tight end Martellus Bennett.
Bennett, who recently turned 29, will be on his fourth team in nine years (he was with Cowboys and Giants before heading to Chicago). Despite being immensely talented with a 6' 6" frame, soft hands and the willingness to block, there’s a reason why Bennett has been so well traveled: he’s a mercurial personality with selfish tendencies that don’t always blend well with the rest of the team.
Just two seasons ago Bennett set career highs in catches (90), yards (916) and touchdowns (six). A year later, the Bears were content trading him and a sixth-round pick to New England for a fourth-round selection.
Certainly the Patriots have had success with similar players of Bennett’s ilk (Randy Moss, Corey Dillon). They’ve also had their share of failures (Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco). But each move, like this one, was low-risk with the potential for high reward.
That’s certainly the case here. If Bennett can behave and keep his eye on the big picture—that he’s heading into the final year of his contract with Tom Brady throwing him passes in what should be a high-powered offense—he can strike it rich on the free-agent market next year, or return to New England.
Certainly the upside is evident for the Patriots. Not only will defenses have to figure out how to cover two 6' 6" tight ends (the second being Rob Gronkowski, of course) in the red zone, but the two towers should form one of the more devastating on-the-line run blocking tandems at the tight end position (the Patriots won’t have to waste space with extra linemen like Cam Fleming and Michael Williams to aid blocking).
Having Gronkowski and Bennett on the field with receivers Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola/Chris Hogan (signed as an RFA from Buffalo) and running back Dion Lewis will cause quite a conundrum for defensive coordinators. Another aspect of the move is that for the first time since he became a focal point of the offense in 2011, the Patriots have a comparable replacement for Gronkowski should he sustain another injury. The 2011, ’12 and ’13 seasons all lost steam when Gronkowski was ailing. Having Bennett gives the Patriots a legit plug-and-play option in a worst-case scenario.
Of course, all of that is contingent on Bennett acclimating himself into the Patriots’ complicated pass game, earning the trust of Brady and buying into a locker room atmosphere that is wholly team-first. Considering his reputation as a smart player, and the contract carrot being dangled in front of him, the odds would favor this working out well for the Patriots, at least in 2016.