By Chris Emma–
(CBS) There really is only one Martellus Bennett — nobody else like him.
Perhaps the only personality as engaging and enthralling as Bennett’s in the NFL is that if his brother, Seahawks defensive standout Michael Bennett. With Martellus, the Bears had three seasons of the unexpected, and it was embraced for the most part. His annual goal?
“The same awesomeness I bring every year,” Bennett said in August.
Bennett’s locker room persona could only be topped by his fascinating life off the field, where he created a featured animated film and hopes to pursue a career with one of the major animation companies after his football career ends. Bennett’s inspiration was to show his two-year-old daughter Jett that she, too, can set her mind to anything.
Teammates largely welcomed Bennett’s presence, one that was considered generally positive during his time in Chicago. Fans enjoyed the enlightening player who’s different in a wonderful way — as did the media, too. But that’s not what led to Wednesday’s trade with New England.
The Bears opted to deal Bennett along with a sixth-round pick (originally acquired from the Patriots in September’s Jon Bostic deal) for a fourth-round selection, to move up 77 spots in the draft. In the minds of general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox, trading Bennett was addition by subtraction, because his commitment to the team was constantly called into question.
There was a growing list of concerns the Bears had with Bennett. In training camp of 2014, he threw down then-rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller in a violent manner, forcing a suspension from the team. He skipped the first voluntary workouts with Fox — a key concern for the new regime — because of a contract gripe. Then, Bennett acted out again in November, when Zach Miller became the Bears’ go-to tight end and took away targets.
“When you say something, you become the a——, even if it’s a valid point,” Bennett then said. “So. I just avoid drama. They don’t pay the a——. At this point, I just want to be a really good employee.”
Naturally, such comments only added drama. The Bears brass took notice of Bennett’s behavior. After ridding receiver Brandon Marshall one March ago, Pace was prepared to move Bennett, too, gladly taking a diminished value if it meant creating a more positive culture at Halas Hall.
There were also strong words from Bennett toward Jay Cutler in August that prompted the quarterback to take the high road. Bennett was a constant locker room distraction as the Bears worked to change the culture after dismissing Marc Trestman after the 2014 season.
To Pace’s credit, he was savvy in speaking on Bennett’s status, stating each time that the tight end remained under contract and offering no ill will. Still, it became apparent to all that the Bears wanted Bennett gone.
“We got a pretty good picture of him, as a player and a person,” Pace said in January’s season-ending press conference.
Please don’t get the wrong idea, because Bennett isn’t a bad guy by any means — he’s a kind, unique person. He surely wasn’t anything but productive in Chicago, recording a career-best 90 catches in 2014 and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. Cutler and the Bears offense relied heavily on Bennett, and now they must hope Miller can bring similar numbers (he had five touchdowns in eight games last season).
The Bears traded Bennett because they believed removing his influence was in the best interest of a football future that suddenly seems promising. Count the newly signed Danny Trevathan, Akiem Hicks, Bobby Massie and more among believers in where the Bears can go under the direction of Fox and Pace.
“That (winning) attitude is going to spread like wildfire,” Trevathan said. “It’s going to be contagious.”
Fox and Pace don’t want any deterrents in their goal of bringing Chicago a championship. Marshall was moved last season — a Hall of Fame talent willingly traded in his prime for a third time — because the Bears needed to create a new culture. Bennett worked his way out the doors of Halas Hall, too.
The NFL has few personas like Bennett in its fraternity, so wonderfully weird. But the Bears viewed his influence differently, making their move of a Pro Bowl talent entirely necessary.