GREEN BAY -- Martellus Bennett’s unexpected weekend Instagram post announcing that he’s leaning toward retiring after this season likely came as a surprise to many.
But given the Green Bay Packers’ veteran tight end’s out-of-the-box thinking and there’s-life-beyond-football mentality -- not to mention more than a few conversational breadcrumbs he dropped during training camp and early in the season -- perhaps it should not have been.
In any event, the 30-year-old Bennett did not say for certain he’ll be calling it a career after the season ends, but at the very least he’s contemplating it. And when a player starts thinking about retiring, that’s often a sign they should.
“After conversations with my family I’m pretty sure these next 8 games will be the conclusion of my NFL career,” Bennett wrote, miscalculating the Packers’ number of post-bye games -- they have nine games remaining, starting with a Nov. 6 Monday Night Football matchup with the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field.
“To everyone who has poured themselves and time into my life and career, these next games are for you. Thank you.”
As a postscript, Bennett mentioned the playoffs, though with two-time NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers possibly done for the season and backup Brett Hundley having struggled in back-to-back losses after Rodgers fractured his right collarbone at Minnesota on Oct. 15, the Packers are sitting at 4-3 and their run of eight consecutive playoff berths is in jeopardy.
Bennett, 30, entered the bye having caught just 24 passes for 233 yards and had yet to score a touchdown. He’s been officially charged with three dropped passes, although he had at least two others wiped out by defensive penalties. He’s also incurred the wrath of some Packers fans who took offense to his decision to sit for the national anthem before the team’s Week 3 game against Cincinnati.
“It's a long season,” Bennett said a few weeks ago when asked about his limited productivity. “The season's still getting started. For me, I left a couple of plays on the field here and there, but it's just getting used to and getting acclimated to playing in a game-type situation with Aaron and the team and the flow of things. So just try to figure out that, try to get in a good rhythm. I haven't really been able to get in a rhythm yet. But we're just getting started, and we're winning games. That's all that really matters.
“It doesn't matter if I have 10 catches or two catches. There's a lot of stuff I'll make an impact in the game with. It doesn't matter if I'm getting the ball or not. If my impact on this week's game is chipping a lot, I'm going to try to do the best job I can do chipping. If they need me to catch 10 balls, I'm going to try to go catch 10 balls. Every single week is different. I know a lot of the outside people look at statistics, but I just look at Ws.”
Bennett, who maintains a home in the Chicago suburb of Long Grove, Ill., following his time with the Chicago Bears, has commuted back-and-forth to Green Bay as much as possible since signing a three-year, $21 million free-agent deal in March after one season with the New England Patriots. That deal included a $6.3 million signing bonus, and Bennett would likely have to repay two years’ worth of that bonus, or $4.2 million, should he retire.
He’d also be walking away from $9.2 million in base salary for the final two years of the deal and a $2 million roster bonus he’s due to be paid on the third day of the new league year in March. It’s possible the Packers and Bennett’s agent included that roster bonus so they’d have a clear point during the offseason to decide whether they’d want to continue their partnership beyond one season. Bennett is scheduled to make $3.6 million in base salary in 2018 in addition to that roster bonus, a per-game roster bonus and a workout bonus. All that would be wiped off the Packers’ salary-cap books if he retires.
Bennett has a myriad of off-the-field interests, including his own creative arts company, the Imagination Agency, which has designed children’s books, digital apps and animated series. Bennett, who is playing for his fifth team (Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Bears, Patriots, Packers), admitted during training camp some people have questioned his commitment to football in the past because of his outside interests. He also expressed concerns about CTE and the long-term effects of whatever head trauma he’s already suffered.
“Every single year for me, you always think about retirement and things you want to do after football,” Bennett said this summer. “Once you get to a certain year, you kind of go through that with your body.
“You always think about that because two of the things that I value a lot are my mind and my hands – being able to write things, draw and create. So you always worry about what’s going to go on with your mind after football, because life after football is big. Because, this is only a small period of our life. We’ve got so much longer, if you’re fortunate to have a long life to live after this game.
“Like I always said, football is not a career. It’s a job. And a lot of guys have to find careers after this. For me, it’s going to be using my mind.”
Asked at the time if he was possibly playing his final season, Bennett said no.
“I still love playing,” he said then. “Really right now, it’s all about winning and just playing football. I love being out here with the guys, meeting guys, I love stiff-arming people. I still love the competition. I love the preparation still. I think when I stop loving the preparation is when I will give it up because that’s the most important part, whether that’s working out or watching film and studying and taking notes.
“Once I feel like my preparation goes down, I feel like that’s when I will walk away. I think that will happen before my body gives out.”