The New England Patriots‘ 2016 training camp is underway. Players fight for practice repetitions and playing time to earn one of the 53 spots on the roster. They have until late August, when each team has to start making its roster cuts, to secure a role.
Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we’ll continue the series with tight end Martellus Bennett.
Name: Martellus Bennett
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: 88
Size: 6’6, 275 lbs.
2015 review: Coming off his first Pro Bowl selection in 2014, Bennett did not partake in the Chicago Bears’ voluntary offseason workouts in hopes of receiving a re-adjusted contract. He returned for mandatory minicamp and was also on the field for training camp but Bennett never received the new contract he wanted. While his off the field endeavors were not successful, his on the field play was – although it was slightly less successful as it had been the year prior.
Bennett finished his third year in Chicago with 53 catches for 439 yards and three touchdowns, while playing and starting 11 of the Bears’ 16 games. The veteran appeared in his team’s first 10 games but sustained a rib injury that forced him to leave the week 11 matchup against the Denver Broncos. He was out the following week but returned in week 13, when he aggravated the injury. Consequently, the Bears placed Bennett on injured reserve on December 9th.
Despite missing five games and leaving two of the other 11 due to injury, Bennett was one of the most productive players of the Bears’ 2015 offense. He was second in catches and tied for third in both yards and touchdowns. The 722 snaps he played (of 1,077; 67%) were the most of Chicago’s skill position players.
Even though he was a productive and consistent contributor with the Bears, the team elected to trade Bennett to the New England Patriots in March. Chicago gave up the tight end and a sixth-round selection to receive the Patriots’ 2016 fourth-round pick.
2016 preview: When the Patriots traded for Bennett, he had one year left on his contract and thus has a 2016 cap hit of $5.185 million. While this makes him the player with the ninth highest cap hit on the team, considering that New England gave up a mid-round draft selection to obtain the 29-year old’s services, he can be considered a lock to make the roster alongside fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski.
With Gronkowski the clear-cut number one option at tight end, Bennett is projected to be the team’s number two option at the position and more of a role-player in Foxboro than he was in Chicago. And while he likely will not be able to duplicate the numbers of his 2014 Pro Bowl season, the veteran should still see a substantial amount of snaps. After all, Bennett is one of the most well-rounded tight ends in the NFL – a threat as a pass catcher and technically sound as a blocker – and will be a key piece in the team’s two-plus tight end sets and jumbo packages.
The team will find a way to use him as a versatile chess piece to either free things up for other weapons on offense or to take advantage of teams trying to key in on Gronkowski and the Patriots’ other talented receiving options. Therefore, while his role will likely not be as prominent as it was with the Bears, when he was quarterback Jay Cutler’s security blanket, Bennett will be an important cog in New England’s offensive machine.
Martellus Bennett is an intriguing athlete to team up with Rob Gronkowski. He is an able blocker and receiver and adds another talented piece to the puzzle that is the Patriots’ offensive arsenal. Time will tell if he really finds success in New England but his skill set should translate well to the team’s offense – something that already is on display during practice.