When Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson signed free agent tight end Martellus Bennett this off-season, it delighted Packers fans for several reasons. The first reason is that Thompson actually signed a free agent, something he rarely does. The other reason, is that Bennett was a big named free agent coming off a solid season with the New England Patriots. Many believed that Bennett was the missing piece to get the Packers back to the Super Bowl. But those fans excitement came to a halt this past week when it was announced that Bennett had been released. The Bennett experiment had high hopes, but in the end it was a failure. However, in the overall scheme of things, it isn’t an experiment that should be avoided. The Green Bay Packers shouldn’t shun free agency after the failure of Martellus Bennett.
Green Bay Packers Shouldn’t Shun Free Agency after the Failure of Martellus Bennett
The expectations were high when Bennett landed in Green Bay this off-season. After negotiations broke down between former Packers tight end Jared Cook on a new deal, the Packers quickly locked up Bennett to fill their top tight end spot. Bennett had the 6’7” size and athletic ability to give quarterback Aaron Rodgers the looks he needed to stretch the middle of the field, something Cook did late in the previous season. But those visions of Bennett dashing down the middle of the field never came to true, making the signing a failure.
There are several possibilities on why Bennett was released. The truth is, the scheme wasn’t a fit and the experiment was not working. Even when playing with Rodgers before his collarbone injury, Bennett struggled in the passing game. Before his release, he had only 24 catches for just 233 yards and didn’t register a touchdown reception.
To go along with his lack of production, Bennett struggled with drops, something that he never had before coming to Green Bay. He contributed as a blocker for the Packers, helping out the offensive line that has been decimated by injuries, but that wasn’t why he was brought in. Bennett also showed a lack of interest, especially when Rodgers fell to injury. His aloofness was noticeable and was possibly a drag on the rest of his Packer teammates.
No matter, the risk was worth the signing, especially on what the upside could have been if the arrangement had actually worked. For Thompson and the rest of the Packers front office, this one failure shouldn’t mean shutting down using free agency altogether, the rewards outweigh the negatives.
Thompson has been lambasted by Packers fans throughout his tenure as the general manager because of his lack of free agent moves. Many are now holding their breath after the release of Bennett, believing that Thompson will once again go back into his cocoon and make his vacation plans when free agency opens next off-season. If Thompson is as good of a general manager as most believe he is, he won’t do this.
Thompson will always believe the best way to build a team is through the draft, that isn’t going to change. But the Packers aren’t building a team for the future anymore, they are set with a core group of veterans who need players that can contribute now. The number one example of this is their veteran quarterback, Rodgers.
Rodgers has stated that he is on the back nine of his career, so winning now should take precedence over winning later. That doesn’t mean Thompson should stop bringing in young talent to contribute, far from it, he should still continue to do that. But just because Bennett failed to help the Packers win this season, it doesn’t mean he should give up on bringing in free agents who can help in the present.
Thompson has shown in the past that he has had success in bringing in outside free agents, albeit on a small scale. When nobody wanted free agent cornerback Charles Woodson after he finished with the Oakland Raiders in 2005, Thompson went out on a limb and signed the former Heisman trophy winner. The bet paid off in a big way, with Woodson being the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2009 and the leader of the Packers when they won the Super Bowl back in 2011. Without Woodson being the the veteran presence of the 2011 squad, the Packers might not have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy that season.
After the 2013 season, the Chicago Bears released defensive end/outside linebacker Julius Peppers, believing that the aging veteran was out of gas and not worth the money he was making. The Packers quickly swooped in and signed Peppers. Peppers would play three seasons for the Packers registering 25 sacks and becoming a big piece of the Packers defense.
Bennett might not have been the player or even teammate that the Packers had hoped for, but it doesn’t mean that the Packers can’t find another Woodson or Peppers in free agency in upcoming free agency periods. Hall of Fame and former Packers general manager Ron Wolf had his failures in free agency but that never stopped him from trying, something that Thompson can learn from. To depend on free agency to build an NFL roster is insanity, but to avoid it altogether just because of one failure, well that is just as insane. Thompson needs to keep his eye on the prize, and if bringing in outside help is the answer, then it needs to be done.