GREEN BAY – Martellus Bennett was discussing his business pursuits, a frequent topic. The Green Bay Packers tight end hasn’t fielded a question from the media about football in more than two weeks, since before quarterback Aaron Rodgers went on injured reserve, but Bennett always — always — has time to discuss business pursuits.
Three years ago, inspired by the birth of his daughter, Bennett founded the Imagination Agency as a way to channel his bursting creative interests. On a Sunday afternoon in the middle of Packers training camp in August, Bennett pulled a sketchbook from a bag inside his locker. Flipping through the pages, Bennett described how he often starts his sketches with no clear objective.
It is merely pencil against paper, stroke after stroke, the details becoming clearer with time.
“My best thing,” Bennett said, “is my imagination. My mind is big. I don’t draw with anything in mind. I have no plan or nothing.”
His is art in its purest form. Spontaneous. Unrestricted. It’s the inspiration behind Bennett’s company. He has five full-time artists on staff, Bennett explained, with plans to grow. Bennett said he wanted to keep a low overhead while he’s playing in the NFL.
Bennett was discussing all his future plans three days after the Packers' preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, when his mind suddenly snapped back to football.
“I could retire any time nowadays,” Bennett, unprompted, told PackersNews.com on Aug. 13. “It’s year by year for me. So I take it year by year and see how I feel. You never know. I’ve got a lot of opportunities, a lot of business stuff I’m doing.”
Eleven weeks later, Bennett announced on his Instagram account late Saturday he's "pretty sure" his football career has arrived at that final year.
It’s unclear whether the Packers were surprised by Bennett’s announcement, but they were prepared. Without Bennett, the tight end position likely becomes a higher draft priority next spring for general manager Ted Thompson, but the 30-year-old veteran wasn’t the Packers' long-term solution at the position.
The Packers are not financially committed to Bennett past this season. Only his $6.3 million signing bonus was guaranteed. Bennett was scheduled to receive a $2 million roster bonus in March, meaning the Packers had until then to decide whether they wanted to keep him on their roster in 2018 and 2019.
If Bennett retires, the Packers would not owe the final $12.95 million in a three-year, $21 million contract he signed in March.
Bennett’s announcement comes midway through what must be a disappointing season. After 55 catches for 701 yards with the New England Patriots last season, Bennett was not retained by the franchise that helped him win his first Super Bowl ring. No longer with Tom Brady, Bennett latched onto another future Hall of Fame quarterback in Green Bay.
Rodgers’ broken collarbone in his right, throwing shoulder two weeks ago likely spelled the end of his season, and with it Bennett’s shot at a second straight ring.
Bennett was on the receiving end of Rodgers’ pass when the quarterback crashed to the ground, breaking his right clavicle on a tackle by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr. Bennett hasn’t spoken to the media since before his quarterback’s injury. He declined to be interviewed in the locker room after the Packers' loss to the Vikings, and declined interviews again after Green Bay's loss to the New Orleans Saints.
“I just don’t feel like talking,” Bennett said as he walked out of the locker room after the Saints game.
Bennett, a Pro Bowler in 2014, is not having one of his finer seasons.
Drops have been an issue since the season started, something he doesn’t have a history of struggling with in his career. Though his 24 catches for 233 yards are on pace to eclipse his final season in Chicago, Bennett is on track to have his second-worst statistical season since becoming a featured tight end after leaving the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent in 2012.
It’s possible, if not likely, none of Bennett’s reasons for retiring involve football. He loves the game, but no more than he loves to draw. Or think. Or debate. More than a football player, Bennett perceives himself as an intellectual. His personality has multiple dimensions of equal weight.
Bennett’s role models, he has said, include film director Tim Burton and Dr. Seuss. His purpose, he has said, is to inspire people with his creations. “I’m a maker,” Bennett said in August. In his mind, Bennett wasn’t put on this earth to score touchdowns.
“People want to box you in,” Bennett said at the onset of training camp in July, “so they can understand you a little bit more. For me, I just never really thought about not chasing my dreams. It’s like, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I know football is going to come to an end, and I know I have dreams of being the black Walt Disney, or the black Dr. Seuss, whatever it may be. That’s like one of my biggest dreams in life.
“I tell that to anybody — any kid, any adult — anything you want to do in life, you can do it, no matter what anyone tells you.”
Before Bennett’s announcement, he already had gone against his artistic instincts.
The plan for Bennett’s post-football life is far from spontaneous. His future comes with a long-defined plan. The only question was when.
Ten years into the NFL, the details of his life’s sketch are clearer than ever. He has a lot of opportunities, business interests to pursue. Bennett is set up for life after the NFL in a way most players can only dream.
“The Imagination Agency is what I want to do with the rest of my life,” Bennett said in August.
Now, it appears the rest of his life arrives after this season.