A report early Friday morning by ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the Packers had "broken off" contract talks with free-agent TE Jared Cook was a bit eye-opening, because QB Aaron Rodgers held such a high opinion of Cook.
“Jared Cook, I think, needs to be near the top of the priority list, the way he played this year,” Rodgers said after Green Bay’s playoff loss.
Turns out, the Packers were on it. Friday night, they signed 2016 Super Bowl champion TE Martellus Bennett to a three-year deal worth a reported $21 million. Cook was good for Rodgers and the Packers. Bennett could be even better, if his efforts in recent seasons are to be believed.
Last year with the Patriots, Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards and a career-high seven touchdowns, splitting time between partnering with Rob Gronkowski in a lethal two-TE set and filling in for an injured Gronkowski. The Patriots’ offense hardly missed a beat in the postseason with Gronk on the shelf.
Bennett now has caught at least 50 passes in five consecutive seasons, highlighted by a 90-reception showing with the Bears in 2014.
He is, to put it lightly, among the NFL’s most dynamic threats at tight end. He’s also a stout run blocker, which was one of the reasons New England coveted him in the first place. The Packers already lost OL J.C. Tretter to free agency and are almost certain to see G T.J. Lang and RB Eddie Lacy leave, too, so Bennett’s road-grading prowess will be quite welcome for the run game.
Bennett’s deal checks in at the top of the free-agent TE class, for now—as it should. The $7 million per season matches what Arizona recently gave Jermaine Gresham (four years, $28 million), and it tops the contract Jack Doyle signed with Indianapolis (three years, $18.9 million). When the dust settles Cook should land somewhere south of Bennett’s price tag, although ESPN’s Jason Wilde reported that Green Bay was willing to pay Cook even more than it allotted for Bennett.
If that’s accurate, Cook may have botched an opportunity here. And Bennett comes at even more of a value than it first appeared.
No matter the financials, this is the type of move that could help Green Bay get over the top in the NFC. The ’16 Packers received off-and-on contributions from Cook and fellow TE Richard Rodgers, but Bennett should be a consistent and dangerous threat for them next year.