GREEN BAY – Had tight end Martellus Bennett not posted on his Instagram account that he planned to retire after this season, he might very well be home for the season collecting $52,941.17 a week through the end of the calendar year.
Instead, Bennett is on the street, cut by the Packers on Wednesday with the designation “failed to disclose physical condition.”
It is the end of a match made in quicksand.
Bennett never fulfilled the promise the Packers saw in him when they chose him over incumbent Jared Cook and signed him to a three-year, $21 million free agent contract March 10.
Over the course of training camp and the regular season, Bennett never missed a single practice and was never on the injury report until last week. He played in 88 percent of the offensive snaps over the first six games and was used in a multitude of different ways in coach Mike McCarthy’s offense.
Bennett ranks fourth on the team in receiving with 24 catches for 233 yards (9.4 average) and no touchdowns. He has hardly been a factor in the passing game, even when quarterback Aaron Rodgers was healthy, and leads the team by a wide margin with seven drops.
The circumstances under which Bennett parts ways with the Packers are fishy.
Is it a coincidence that the 30-year-old Bennett’s injury was reported to the team three days after he said this on Instagram: "After conversations with my family I'm pretty sure these next 8 games will be the conclusion of my NFL career. To everyone who has poured themselves and time into my life and career. These next games are for you. Thank you."
Three days later, after the players had returned from their bye week, Bennett declined to elaborate on his decision with reporters in the locker room.
On that same day, Bennett reported to the Packers that he had a shoulder injury. On Nov. 2, he was added to the injury report and did not practice the rest of the week.
Is it a coincidence that the shoulder injury popped up two weeks after he saw his chances for a second straight Super Bowl vanish with the crack of Rodgers’ right collarbone on the U.S. Bank Stadium turf in Minnesota?
The Packers listed him as doubtful on the injury report Saturday and coach Mike McCarthy said Bennett was “still taking a visit or two,” intimating that the tight end was seeking a second opinion, which the team must pay for under terms of the CBA.
Bennett was not seen on the sidelines Monday night against the Detroit Lions.
Early Wednesday afternoon, McCarthy said in his news conference that Bennett had met with the doctors Tuesday and “there’s a number of opinions that he’s working through.” Later in the day, he was cut.
The only thing that could have caused the Packers to do that was if Bennett decided he wanted to have season-ending surgery. Given he had not been on the injury report all season, the Packers probably saw it as a ploy to either get cut so he could play for a contender or collect pay while on injured reserve.
From the perspective of those left in the locker room to salvage something out of this season, it may appear that Bennett is bailing out on the team. Most of the players asked about Bennett's possible retirement after this season didn't know what to make of it.
The Packers undoubtedly were worried about that as well as setting precedent that a player could announce his retirement one week and then report he needs surgery the next, conveniently allowing him to collect his money while on injured reserve.
On the other hand, how did the Packers not know about this shoulder condition? Sources said Bennett has had trouble with his shoulder for several seasons, including last year with the New England Patriots.
Did they just miss the diagnosis? Maybe it wasn’t bothering Bennett when he reported for offseason workouts and he didn’t think it was necessary to report it since he had missed only five games over the past five seasons, all due to a rib injury.
But it’s surprising the Packers didn’t know anything about it given all the medical reports that are shared around the NFL.
Whatever the case, this was a bad fit from the start.
It’s unlikely it had anything to do with Bennett sitting during the national anthem in Week 3 before the start of the Cincinnati game. McCarthy supported Bennett’s right to protest and hasn’t cut the other two players who sat with Bennett, tight end Lance Kendricks and cornerback Kevin King.
Bennett contributed heavily to the statement the Packers players’ released asking fans to link arms in the stadium. The players have linked arms on the sideline every game since Week 4.
The only place where Bennett really had an impact with the Packers was with his blocking. He is one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL and had a considerable impact on the success rookie running back Aaron Jones had in the first half of the season.
The Packers now will have to get along with Kendricks and Richard Rodgers, neither of whom are as powerful in the run game. Both have a chance to have more of an impact in the passing game, however, especially Kendricks.
The one thing that is certain about this move is it won’t be the last anyone will hear of the Packers and Bennett.
It is practically a certainty the Packers will seek to recoup a portion of the $6.3 million signing bonus they paid Bennett on March 10 as part of his $21 million deal.
By adding the designation of “failed to disclose physical condition” to Bennett’s release, the Packers are saying that Bennett was not truthful about disclosing any ongoing condition that might be affecting or could eventually affect his ability to perform.
Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, they can petition through a mutually agreed-upon arbitrator for Bennett to return the prorated portion of the signing bonus (at least $4.2 million), all of which would be added back to their salary cap if they are successful.
Bennett probably would have had to return that portion anyway if he had retired after the season.
It is unclear whether the Packers can withhold the remaining $423,529 Bennett is owed as part of a $900,000 base salary that became guaranteed when he survived the cut down to 53 following training camp or any base salary he has been paid for services rendered.
The Patriots went through a similar situation with defensive tackle Jonathan Fanene in 2012 and wound up settling with him after the case went through a lengthy arbitration process.
Not long after news of Bennett’s release, speculation appeared on social media that Bennett might return to the Patriots, where in his only season there he won a Super Bowl. However, signing with another team wouldn’t support his case that he was honest with the Packers about his shoulder injury and could cost him more money then he’d make with the Patriots.
Regardless of how it all ends, the Packers will have come up empty-handed in their dealings with Bennett.