Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett costs $6.125 million toward the salary cap this year. It's the 9th largest cap hit among NFL tight ends.
Following last year's 90-catch, 916-yard, 6-TD performance, Bennett came into 2015 looking for a re-structured contract. He thought he had out-played his old deal and he wanted more money.
Bennett has that right. The NFL is a business, one that does not include fully guaranteed contracts. Teams can cut players at any time, meaning athletes in the sport with the shortest shelf life need to get theirs while they can.
Like most teams, the Bears balked at Bennett's request, so he sat out off-season activities and didn't return to the team until the mandatory sessions began. It's a scenario we've seen play out numerous times in the NFL, where a player expresses his unhappiness with his contract by sitting out, only to return when their paychecks are compromised. We saw it with the Seahawks and Cam Chancellor, who carried his holdout three games into the regular season.
In those scenarios, the player typically returns to form in short order and plays the rest of the season at a high level. Teammates don't mind when a player holds out as long as he's ready to go when he returns to the field. Chancellor has been an absolute beast since re-joining the Seahawks.
The issue with Bennett is that he's carried his contract frustrations through the regular season. He leads the Bears with 53 receptions and 80 targets. In fact, he's the fifth most-targeted player at his position. So it isn't a matter of volume or misuse, it's a matter of Bennett not making the most of his opportunities.
Bennett has caught three or fewer passes in four of the last five games and has just one touchdown since Week 4. In fact, since Week 10 last year (19 games) he's caught just four touchdowns.
Game film shows a player who is not battling for contested passes and is being beat on 50/50 balls by defenders much smaller than him.
As a result, Bennett is averaging just 8.3 yards per catch, which is 307th in the NFL and 57th among tight ends. He's been unreliable as a downfield target and he's not breaking tackles. Typically one of the league leaders in yards after catch, Bennett this season ranks 53rd in the NFL and 8th among tight ends in YAC (213). That is a dramatic drop off in a statistic rooted in a player's desire to stay on his feet.
Bennett's four drops are 9th most at his position, while three passes intended for him have been intercepted, which is the most on the team.
In addition, Bennett's blocking, for which he's renowned, has been spotty at best this year and was horrible last week.
Finally, it was reported last week that he blew up in practice due to his use in red-zone packages.
Bennett is a supremely talented player with size and playmaking ability. He's one of the best all-around tight ends in the NFL ... when he wants to be. Whether it's a matter of attitude or not, the numbers show a player who just isn't producing at a high level, who has done almost nothing to help a passing attack that has been decimated by injuries this year.
For all of these reasons, the time has come for Bennett to sit. Zach Miller is the better option for the Bears.
Miller has been targeted just 19 times this season, 61 fewer than Bennett, yet he leads the team with 4 TD receptions, while Miller's 14.3 yards per reception are 7th most at his position. He's made huge plays after the catch as well as one-handed game winners.
Miller can bring life to a passing attack that has scored just once the past three games combined.
Against the 49ers, Bennett was on the field for 60 of the team's 78 snaps on offense, while Miller saw just 35 snaps. That play-time ratio needs to reverse. Miller deserve the lion's share of starting reps at tight end, or at least a 50/50 share. With injuries felling wide receivers weekly, someone needs to make plays on offense and Bennett just isn't getting it done.
Chicago's new coaching staff has made no qualms about benching or cutting unproductive veterans, no matter their history or pay check. Miller is the better option at tight end, so Bennett should be next in line for bench time.