By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — The writing on the wall would suggest tight end Martellus Bennett’s days in Chicago are numbered.
When Ryan Pace took over as general manager of the Bears last January, he spoke of ridding the organization of distractions, attempting to instill a culture within his team. Pace then backed that by moving mercurial receiver Brandon Marshall to the Jets for just a fifth-round pick, a move for which he holds no regrets.
Now entering his second offseason in the job, Pace may have motivation to move Bennett for similar reasons. While the only incident on Bennett’s reputation was a fight with cornerback Kyle Fuller during training camp in 2014, his outspoken nature can sometimes be considered a disruption for the Bears.
“We got a pretty good picture of him, as a player and a person,” Pace said in Monday’s season-ending press conference.
Bennett has sounded off about his contract in the past, even skipping Bears voluntary minicamp last offseason in a show of displeasure, then he reportedly expressed frustration as Zach Miller received more reps in the offense.
Midway through the season, Miller emerged as a threat for the Bears’ offense, finishing the year with 34 catches and five touchdowns. Bennett was shut down with fractured ribs on Dec. 8 after Chicago’s loss to San Francisco.
A Pro Bowl tight end in 2014, Bennett has just one season left on his contract with the Bears, a four-year deal signed by Phil Emery in 2014. The team can explore a trade of Bennett this offseason. Is Pace concerned that Bennett’s unease will linger during this offseason?
“We haven’t even gotten to that yet,” Pace said. “I’m sure that I’ll talk to his agent, we’ll talk to him.”
Pace did say that he believes the Bears’ relationship with Bennett isn’t strained.
Next for the Bears will be meeting with Bennett’s camp and determining whether moving forward is best for all parties. Bennett’s production is more than worthy of bringing back to the Bears — even with Miller blossoming at the tight end position — but creating a healthy culture is the most important factor for Pace, who proved with the Marshall deal that he’s willing to move a potential distraction.
After dancing around the topic of Bennett for several questions, Pace was asked directly whether he believes that Bennett will be back with the team in 2016.
“I don’t want to get into anyone specifically,” said Pace, declining a chance to take a hard-line stance.
While Pace surely doesn’t want to talk down upon any player or diminish an asset by admitting the idea of trade, the fact he wouldn’t commit to Bennett’s future may be telling in its own right.
Sometimes, what’s not said can speak volumes. It seems that Bennett could be following Marshall’s path out of Chicago.