General manager Ted Thompson was very close to re-signing Jared Cook on Thursday morning. Less than 36 hours later Martellus Bennett was the team’s new starting tight end. Hey Packers fans, welcome to the wacky world of free agency.
Bennett, who turned 30 on the same day he joined the Packers, signed a 3-year contract worth $20 million. He immediately becomes the best tight end to play for the Packers since Keith Jackson in 1997. So what exactly are Aaron Rodgers and the offense getting? To answer that I spent last weekend watching tape.
The first thing that caught my attention was how fluid Bennett is for a man his size (6’6, 275). He’s not as fast as Cook in a straight line, but he’s quicker into and out of his cuts and far more nifty after the catch. In fact, seeing a tight end make tacklers miss in the open field might take some getting used to for Packers fans.
Mike McCarthy loves to split out his tight ends, and for only the seventh season since coming to Green Bay in 2006, he’ll be able to do that with a player other teams actually respect. And you know those little dump offs to Richard Rodgers that turned short tosses into short gains? Well, Bennett can turn those same throws into long(er) gains. In the first video, he runs away from athletic linebacker K.J. Wright and then barrels over safety Earl Thomas. In the second video, he jukes corner Ross Cockrell and picks up an extra 5 yards.
I had to go back to the early part of the decade to find instances of Bennett consistently beating linebackers and safeties down the seam. That wasn’t a major part of his game in New England last season or in Chicago the three years before. Why? Probably because of the offenses he played in, and the fact that he simply isn’t as fast in his late 20s as he was in his early 20s (he ran 4.54 at the Combine). That doesn’t mean he won’t get behind the defense on occasion. It just means not to expect a steady diet of it.
As a blocker, Bennett was pretty good last season with New England. His size and strength enables him to at least hold his own against most outside linebackers and defensive ends. This part of his game wasn’t nearly as consistent in prior stops with the Cowboys, Giants and Bears. That tells me the former second-round pick from Texas A&M needs to be pushed hard by his coaches. Like quite a few veteran players, he’ll take the easy way out if given the chance. Needless to say, Bill Belichick didn’t give him the chance.
So how does the newest Packer compare to the team’s last premier tight end? Well, Bennett isn’t as quite as athletic as Jermichael Finley, but he’s a little bigger, a little faster, a lot more sure handed and, believe it or not, even more loquacious. And that’s gotten him into trouble in the past. But he behaved himself with the Patriots and it would be a surprise to see him cause problems in Green Bay. Like the defending Super Bowl champions, the Packers are a winning team led by an established head coach and a well-respected quarterback.
With the addition of Bennett, the Packers are a few Thompson moves away from having a potentially spectacular offense. If he can adequately replace T.J. Lang, it’s difficult to imagine any defense slowing down Rodgers and company. Can you fathom trying to defend Bennett, Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb while No. 12 has all day to throw behind one of the best pass blocking offensive lines in the league?
Add wide receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery and maybe a free agent like Jamaal Charles to the mix and you could see one of the greatest shows on grass next season. Of course, the defense will still have to make a few stops – something it couldn’t do at all in the NFC Championship game in Atlanta or when it mattered most in recent heartbreaking playoff losses to San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona. But hey, that’s a post for another day. For now, fans should just enjoy the surprising gift Uncle Ted has given them.