The Chicago Bears yesterday traded Martellus Bennett to the New England Patriots.
The trade was inevitable. Bennett, while a talented all-around tight end, has been a problem for the Bears since signing with the team in 2013.
In his first training camp, Bennett got into a pushing match with Major Wright during an innocuous blocking drill. Later in practice, during an 11-on-11 drill, Bennett was thrown to the ground following a catch. He stood up and literally fought the entire secondary.
Fast forward to 2014. Bennett got into two practice fights during OTAs, one with Lamarr Houston and the other with Jeremiah Ratliff. Then, during training camp, he body slammed the club's first-round pick, cornerback Kyle Fuller, because Fuller tried to strip the ball from him. Fuller came down on his neck and head and was lucky to avoid injury.
Later in the day, Bennett showed no remorse for his actions, basically daring the team to discipline him. That's exactly what happened, as GM Phil Emery sent Bennett home without pay for a week.
During my five-plus years covering the team, Bennett is the only player to receive a team-mandated suspension.
Yet once the regular season began, he produced at a very high level. In 2014, he had 90 catches for 916 yards and 6 TDs, which are elite numbers for an NFL tight end.
As a result of his career year, Bennett requested a restructured contract. He wanted more money but the Bears wanted him to honor his contract.
Due to the stalemate, Bennett sat out voluntary off-season workouts last year and he didn't show up until the mandatory sessions, when his paychecks were on the line.
Consider that situation. The Bears had just hired a brand new general manager in Ryan Pace and a brand new head coach in John Fox. Neither coach nor GM had anything to do with his previous contract. They also had never before worked with Bennett and knew nothing more of him than his stats and his game tape.
So the first impression of Bennett for both Pace and Fox was of a disgruntled athlete who was willing to put his needs ahead of the good of the team. That left a horrible taste in their mouths.
Bennett then failed to produce on the field. His 53 reception, 439 receiving yards, 8.3 receiving average and 3 TDs were all his lowest totals since becoming a full-time starter in the NFL in 2012. He didn't win a single 50/50 ball, which was a clear indication of his lack of effort, as was his ineffectiveness as a blocker.
In Week 13, Bennett blew up during practice - which at that point was par for the course - because the coaching staff took him out of two goal-line formations. This followed his absence in Week 12 due to a "rib injury." Bennett chose not to accompany his teammates for a crucial road contest against the Green Bay Packers, then admitted to not even watching the game on TV.
By Week 14, the Bears had had enough and placed him on IR.
This is the timeline of events that led to Bennett's departure, which explains why the team was so eager to part ways with him this off-season. He was a malcontent who was hurting the team in the locker room, on the practice field and on game days. He left the team with no choice.
So where to do the Bears go from here?
The club re-signed Zach Miller this week to replace Bennett as the No. 1 pass-catching tight end. Yet Miller has his limitations and carries a lot of risk. He's always one play away from getting injured and he's not a great in-line blocker.
Rob Housler was also re-signed and could fill in on passing down if Miller gets hurt, but he's far from an ideal backup option.
As such, expect the Bears to look for a blocking tight end in free agency - they tried to sign Jermaine Gresham, who chose to return to Arizona instead - or the draft. With Bennett gone, the Bears must add depth and/or talent at tight end, so Pace's work is far from over.
The Bears received the Patriots' 4th-round pick in this year's draft in exchange for Bennett, so they could use that pick on a tight end. Or they could use a 2nd-round pick on a tight end, knowing they have an extra pick in the 4th to fill other positions of need.
Starters can be still be found in the 4th round of the draft. Previous Bears contributors who were drafted in the 4th round include RB Jeremy Langford, TE Evan Rodriguez, DE Corey Wootton, CB D.J. Moore, DT Henry Melton and S Craig Steltz. A smart GM can find value in the 4th.
If the Bears go the route of free agency, they now have extra cash to spend. Bennett was scheduled to make $5.185 million this year, which the Bears can now use to add depth at tight end, as well as address other positions of need.
Again, a smart GM will make the most of more than $5 million in cap space.
At the end of the day, trading Bennett was a necessity. Had they not been able to find a trade partner, the Bears likely would have cut him, so getting an extra fourth-round pick was gravy.
Will they miss his on-field talent? Yes, when he was giving full effort. Will they miss everything else that comes with rostering the self-described Black Unicorn? Not hardly.
Pace made the right decision to move Bennett, now it's up to him to make sure it doesn't come back to haunt them.