GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers let Jared Cook walk and instead signed Martellus Bennett. They swapped one veteran tight end for another in what has to be one of the boldest moves general manager Ted Thompson has ever made in free agency.
Terms: Three years, $21 million including a $6.3 million signing bonus.
ESPN 150 ranking: No. 13.
Grade: A-minus: It’s a bit of an out-of-character move for Thompson, but a veteran tight end was an necessity. Perhaps Cook was the more ideal fit given how quickly he and Aaron Rodgers developed chemistry in 2016, his only season with the Packers. But if it wasn’t Cook, then Bennett was the next-best option. Even if he's not as athletic as Cook, Bennett has the size (6-foot-6) that makes him a matchup nightmare. He’s the first true unrestricted free agent Thompson has signed since 2012, when he inked defensive end Anthony Hargrove and center Jeff Saturday. The likes of Cook and Julius Peppers were street free agents who were cut by other teams. Bennett finished out his contract with the Patriots by winning a Super Bowl.
What it means: For years, Thompson drew criticism for virtually ignoring veteran free agency. To be sure, an old GM (he’s 64) isn’t going to change his stripes, but this is at least a sign that he recognizes unrestricted free agency is necessary to get his team over the hump. Had he failed to land Bennett after talks broke down with Cook, the Packers would have been in a significant bind. Sure, it’s a rich tight end class in the draft, but it would have been unrealistic to expect a rookie to come in and make the kind of impact the Packers need to keep their offense rolling. And had Thompson not made this move, who knows how upset Rodgers would have been over losing Cook? He still might be upset given how he publicly stumped for Cook after the season, but this should ease things. He seemed to like it based on his Twitter post shortly after news of the signing broke:
— Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) March 10, 2017
What’s the risk? Bennett turned 30 on Friday and did have some nagging injuries (ankle and shoulder) but played through them last season. He caught 55 passes for 701 yards and seven touchdowns in his only regular season with the Patriots, who acquired him in a trade from Chicago last offseason. He caught five passes for 62 yards in the Super Bowl. The bigger issue with Bennett might be his eccentric personality and willingness to speak his mind. Some thought that might be a problem under Bill Belichick’s watch in New England, but it seemed to work out. The Packers are Bennett's third team in three years and his fifth in his 10-year career. Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy are forever conscious of how a player will affect their locker room, so they must be comfortable with Bennett.