GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers’ decision to cut tight end Martellus Bennett could wind up being a game-changer for the New England Patriots.
The defending Super Bowl champions claimed Bennett off waivers Thursday, just 24 hours after the Packers released him with a designation of “failure to disclose a physical condition.”
Bennett can join the Patriots immediately. His contract goes with him to New England, but the only thing the Patriots must pay him this season is his $52,491 weekly salary plus $37,500 for every game he is on the 46-man game day roster.
Last year, Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards and seven touchdowns for the Patriots, the fourth of five teams he has played for in his 10-year career.
SILVERSTEIN: Martellus Bennett, Packers bad fit from the start
He is due a $2 million roster bonus in March as part of the three-year, $21 million deal he signed last March, but the Patriots can part ways with him without a salary-cap hit simply by not paying it.
Bennett, who hasn't taken questions from the media since before he posted on Instagram on Oct. 28 that he was "pretty sure" he would retire after the season, finally alluded to his mysterious circumstance Thursday on his Twitter account, saying "I'll tell y'all everything one day, but wow."
One big question is whether the Patriots will pass him on his physical, given he had told the Packers before being cut that he had a shoulder injury that would not allow him to play again this season. Bennett had the shoulder examined by doctors outside the Packers organization last week and was considering surgery.
According to multiple reports Friday, Bennett has been playing with a torn rotator cuff and torn labrum.
Even if the Patriots choose to pass him on his physical with the understanding he has an ongoing shoulder injury, it could help the Packers’ case when they go after the remaining prorated portion of his signing bonus.
The Packers used the “failure to disclose a physical condition” designation so that it showed they were parting ways as a result of Bennett’s actions and not their own. NFL clubs are able to go to arbitration to recoup a percentage of signing bonus money if a player retires, violates conduct policies or is dishonest about an existing physical condition.
The Packers paid Bennett a $6.3 million signing bonus and the prorated portion remaining is $4.2 million, which is what the Packers would try to recoup. Whatever they could get back would be applied to the salary cap.
If Bennett is on the Patriots, the Packers won’t have to pay his base salary, which was guaranteed at the start of the season. The money they don’t pay will be subtracted off their cap.
The case will go to arbitration and if Bennett chooses to play again this season, it’s likely the arbitrator will have questions as to why Bennett couldn’t play for the Packers but could for the Patriots.
Bennett disclosed his injury to the Packers three days after his Instagram post. He had not missed a practice or game since the start of training camp and never was on the team’s injury report.
The timing of the whole ordeal — coming two weeks after the Packers’ Super Bowl chances were dealt a critical blow when quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his right collarbone against Minnesota on Oct. 15 — doesn’t look good.
Packers players were not willing to say Bennett bailed on his teammates, only that the circumstances were strange. They don't know if Bennett orchestrated his release so he could re-join the Patriots or really can't play because of injury.
“I mean, yeah, definitely surprise,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said Thursday. “We’re just disappointed with what happened with him. It was high expectations, and a good guy that came in, but just kind of ... it sucks.
“Kind of disappointed with how he handled stuff, and how it went about. I guess we’ll see what happens with that.”
Guard Lane Taylor said it was hard not to wonder about the timing of everything. On a Saturday, Bennett says he’s going to retire; on Tuesday he practices and on Thursday he’s on the injury report and not expected to play.
“I don’t know, it’s kind of strange,” Taylor said. “I don’t know if many people have seen that situation. I don’t know what he was thinking. It wasn’t great timing. I don’t know if his shoulder wasn’t an issue; nobody really knows. That’s the weird thing about it.”
Veteran linebacker Ahmad Brooks said after talking to Bennett after the bye, he didn’t think he was serious about retiring.
“He’s one of the vocal people in the locker room, and he just spoke his mind,” Brooks said. “He probably just said something he didn’t really mean.”
Bennett had played 88 percent of the snaps and caught 24 passes for 233 yards and no touchdowns. He led the team with seven drops. His biggest contribution had been his blocking in the run game.
The Packers go into their game Sunday against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field with just two tight ends on their roster, Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers.
Both are expecting to play plenty of snaps.
“I think it gives me more plays, more time in the offense, which has been great for me,” Kendricks said. “I’ve been able to catch up on some things where maybe I didn’t get the reps in before. Same with Richard.
“We’re kind of out there together. We may sub in and out and kind of get the reps together. I think it makes it a little more fresh for us to be out there and learn the offense.”