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GREEN BAY – Martellus Bennett’s time in Green Bay was short, much less than the three-year contract he signed this March.
The Packers released the veteran tight end Wednesday for failure to disclose a physical condition. Bennett was listed on the injury report last week with a shoulder injury, something coach Mike McCarthy said he first learned of after practice on Oct. 31. That practice was three days after Bennett announced on his Instagram account he might retire at season’s end.
With the designation of failure to disclose a physical condition, the Packers are claiming Bennett did not inform them of a previous injury before signing his $21 million contract this spring. The designation gives them an option to go after part of Bennett’s compensation. At the very least, Bennett potentially could be required to repay the $4.2 million proration on his signing bonus.
Once his shoulder heals, Bennett will go on waivers and be available for other teams to claim.
Since his addition to the injury report, Bennett has not practiced. He was inactive for Monday night’s game against the Detroit Lions. Earlier Wednesday, McCarthy said Bennett was at the Packers' facility Tuesday getting medical opinions on his shoulder.
“I know he was in here yesterday,” McCarthy said. “There’s a number of opinions that he’s working through. He met with our medical staff (Tuesday), so they’re still going through the process, but he will be out against Chicago.”
Bennett was signed to give the Packers' offense something it lacked for many years: a traditional tight end effective both blocking and receiving. He was the first unrestricted free agent general manager Ted Thompson signed since 2012, a five-year drought that was longest in the NFL.
Now, he’s a cautionary tale of the risks involved with free agency.
The Packers likely would not have released Bennett if not for his late Saturday night announcement Oct. 28 that he was leaning toward retirement after this season. There was a feeling, according to one source, that Bennett quit on the team after quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone in Minnesota.
Bennett, the intended target when Rodgers was taken to the ground by Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr after releasing a pass, had not spoken to the media since before Rodgers’ injury. He declined interviews after the Packers' game in Minnesota and loss to the New Orleans Saints one week later.
As he left the locker room after the Saints game, Bennett told PackersNews.com he simply didn’t feel like talking.
When the Packers reconvened after their late-October bye, Bennett was with the team. He declined to be interviewed Oct. 31, but before exiting the locker room said “life” led him to ponder retirement.
McCarthy declined at that time to share his reaction to Bennett’s announcement he potentially would retire.
“Any time comments are made,” McCarthy said, “you should probably speak to the individual. I’m not going to speak on anybody’s future plans and so forth. But there’ll be a point to sit down and talk to Marty.”
The Packers signed Bennett this spring when their negotiations with former tight end Jared Cook broke down. McCarthy said Bennett gave him a chance to use more formations with an in-line tight end. In recent years, and especially with Cook, the Packers' offense often used a displaced tight end.
Instead, Bennett never found his rhythm in the Packers' offense, nor offered the same production Cook gave them. He uncharacteristically dropped passes, something he never has had a reputation of doing in his career. Bennett had just 24 catches for 233 yards and no touchdowns in seven games.
It was becoming Bennett’s second-least productive season since first getting an opportunity to be a starting tight end with the New York Giants in 2012, only behind his final season with the Chicago Bears in 2015. Meanwhile, Cook signed with the Oakland Raiders, where he has 39 catches for 499 yards (12.8 yards per catch) and one touchdown in nine games.
Without Bennett, the Packers will turn to veteran tight ends Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers. Neither has played much this season. In his seven games with the Packers, Bennett was on the field for more than 80 percent of the snaps. Kendricks played barely a quarter of the snaps through the first seven games.
Kendricks played 29 snaps (49 percent) against the Lions, while Richard Rodgers played 33 (56 percent). Kendricks has one more year left on the contract he signed this spring, while Rodgers’ rookie deal expires in the spring.
The Packers likely will address the tight end position in their next draft. Whether Bennett’s failed tenure in Green Bay dissuades Thompson from using free agency in 2018 is uncertain. The Packers, in a swoon without Aaron Rodgers, have no shortages of needs to address next offseason.
As Bennett reminded them, free agency isn’t always – or even often – an effective solution.