The story starts on October 13, 2013. In his sixth year with the Green Bay Packers, Jermichael Finley, a third round draft choice in 2008, was in the midst of his third consecutive fine year. But on this date, Finley suffered a bruised spinal cord against the Cleveland Browns – which proved to be career-ending.
So in the spring of 2014 the Packers selected Richard Rodgers, also in the third round, to replace Finley. Though Rodgers had a nice year in 2015 – 58 catches, 501 yards, and eight touchdowns – he was an afterthought by 2016, and less than that to date this year.
After the 2015 season, it must have dawned on the Packers that Rodgers was too slow, a poor blocker, and not the domineering presence they wanted to camp out in the middle of the field.
So they went after Jared Cook, who in four years with the Tennessee Titans and three more with the St. Louis Rams had only put up average numbers. He was, however, big, athletic, and with intriguing potential. Instead of doing the sensible thing and signing him to a three-year contract, Ted Thompson signed Cook to a one-year prove-it type deal. A seven year NFL vet should not have to prove himself – by then you either value and trust in his abilities or you don’t.
In his year with the Packers, Cook was limited by injuries, but even when healthy, the Packers didn’t look his way with frequency until the last few games of the regular season. Cook was the hero of the playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys, catching a long fourth down pass as time was about to expire.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The Packers had every intention of re-signing Cook to a multi-year deal. Suddenly, however, Cook not only cut off contract negotiations – he declared they were permanently ended. It’s a fair deduction that Ted Thompson’s monetary offers were viewed as an insult to a guy who after eight years thought he had proved himself to be all that the Packers had hoped for.
That was the news on March 10. But wait. On that same day, the Packers announced they had signed Martellus Bennett as the new starting tight end. For a day or two, there had been rumors the Packers were in contact with Bennett, but by any measure the suddenness of the Bennett deal was stunning.
It’s possible, but doubtful, that the Packers were never that keen on Cook. It’s also possible that Ted Thompson was hoping to acquire Bennett all along. But I think the most likely scenario is that the Packers were shell-shocked by Cook’s rejection, and to save face as much as to find a new tight end, they nabbed Bennett before the naysayers could even begin to criticize them for losing Cook.
Cook quickly signed a two year $10,600,000 deal with the Oakland Raiders, which included $5 million guaranteed. Bennett, meanwhile, signed with Green Bay for exactly $21 million over three years, which included a signing bonus of $6.5 million.
For the year, Cook already has 39 receptions for 499 yards in his nine games with the Raiders. Bennett closed out his Green Bay career with 24 catches in seven games for 233 yards.
It’s all pretty bizarre, if not scandalous. Coach Mike McCarthy indicated that Bennett would miss the Bears game and that he was getting medical opinions regarding an alleged shoulder injury. Later that same day, however, Ted Thompson issued a terse press release: “The Green Bay Packers have waived TE Martellus Bennett.”
Coming when it did, in mid-week with a divisional game against the Bears approaching, this latest event is almost unprecedented.
It also comes just a week and a half after Bennett related via Instagram: “After conversations with my family I’m pretty sure these next 8 games will be the conclusion of my NFL career.”
That strange communication drew this reaction from Big Mike on October 31: “That’s really something… I’m not going to speak on anybody’s future plans and so forth. But they’ll be a point to sit down and talk to Marty.”
I doubt that sit-down ever happened.
More details of these two fractured relationships will undoubtedly dribble out. But we can safely say that Cook and Oakland came out winners, and that the Packers came out a big loser. Bennett is still marketable, but his actions in Green Bay will lower his value. I’d say it’s an even bet that Bennett will indeed retire.
The Packers had structured the Bennett deal with a low cap space in 2017, but escalating in the next two years. While this has probably turned out to be a wise more, it still leaves the Packers with a major personnel weakness.
Midway through the season, the team’s remaining tight ends, Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers, have combined for 12 catches for 169 yards. There’s also a tight end on the practice squad: Emanuel Byrd, a 22-year old out of Marshall. His college teammate, 6’6” receiver Michael Clark is also on that practice squad. We could be seeing both of them on the active roster before year’s end.
The biggest winner just might be Richard Rodgers. He’s steady and stable, he’s never missed a game in the pros, he’s Berkeley-smart, he’s a great teammate, he’s been loyal to the team, he has his ego under control, and he’s kept his mouth shut despite being demoted to a spot player. He won’t get much interest from other teams – his four-year contract is up at season’s end – and he should not cost a lot to re-sign.
While the Packers could always use a top-rate tight end, they have more pressing draft needs coming up in 2018 (pass rusher, wide receiver, etc.) Besides, the Packers didn’t properly utilize either Cook or Bennett, so why spend a high draft choice on a position that has never been a key component in McCarthy’s passing scheme?
Stay tuned — this saga might continue for quite some time.