Last year, it was the Brandon Marshall trade. This year, Phil Emery quietly pulled the strings on another new target for Jay Cutler.
Martellus Bennett tweeted shortly after Tuesday’s 3 p.m. start to NFL free agency that even though no deal has been completed, he’s headed to the Bears. Bennett and Tennessee’s Jared Cook were the top two tight ends on the market (outside of Tony Gonzalez – who decided not to retire earlier in the day to rejoin Atlanta). Whereas Cook is more of the one-dimensional, pass-catching type, Bennett (6'6", 265 pounds) has more blocking skills to be a three-down player.
Bennett is 26 years-old and after being a second round pick of Dallas in 2008 out of Texas A & M, brought many of the same frustrations for four years with the Cowboys that Bears fans had with Kellen Davis this past year, albeit with better overall numbers catching passes from Tony Romo. He also had troubles staying consistently healthy. Dallas let Bennett walk after his rookie contract was up, and after signing for one year with NFC East rival New York a year ago, he enjoyed the best statistical season of his career with 55 catches for 626 yards while catching five touchdown passes from Eli Manning.
This likely means the end of Davis’ career in Chicago despite his having one more year left on his contract, which will include about $1.3 million in “dead money” off what would otherwise be a $3.85 million cap hit.
Still, we await the financial commitment to Bennett, which could very well eat up most of whatever is left of what salary cap space the Bears had, with two starting linebacker spots (as Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach hit the market) and the offensive line standing out as the other remaining needs (and significant ones).
The restructuring of other veteran contracts is necessary to move forward. We know the Bears won’t be choosing a tight end with their first round pick (20th overall), leaving us to wonder if – after Bennett – any protection upgrades for Cutler are coming with fingers crossed that a lineman drops to #20, to go along with a cheaper veteran signing.
But the Bears' general manager is good at not showing his hand. He said on Jan. 1 the offensive line has to get better. Now that free agency has begun, we’re still waiting to see how he accomplishes that.