Martellus Bennett is a New England Patriots tight end again after his time with the Green Bay Packers came to a contentious end. While Bennett’s problem with the Packers was with the team’s handling of his injury, the players in the locker room still took his departure a little personally.
But the 5-4 team is using the slight as an opportunity to come together and unify the locker room.
“From our perspective, it’s an even greater reason for us to hunker down and say, ‘This is our family. This is our locker room.’ And take more ownership of it,” Packers center Corey Linsley said, via the Wisconsin State Journal.
Bennett, 30, accused the Packers of pushing for him to play through a shoulder injury that required surgery to repair. Green Bay released him earlier in November for failure to disclose a medical condition designation, but things got weird when he joined the Patriots and immediately stepped in as a contributor, despite his injury.
“I talked to six or seven doctors about it, and it could go either way, and it was one of those things that I felt like should get fixed,” Bennett said after his first game back with the Patriots. “And then after trying to get it fixed and getting waived, you just got that vengeance in your heart. You're just kind of like, ‘All right, that's how you're going to do it? Then f--- it, let's go ball.’”
But Bennett’s decision to get surgery came shortly after Aaron Rodgers suffered a collarbone injury that forced the Packers to turn to Brett Hundley at quarterback and severely hurt the team’s chances at making the playoffs.
So Packers players saw Bennett’s departure as the tight end “quitting” on the team to go to a contender. Via the Wisconsin State Journal:
“At the end of the day you have to think of it as a business. Me, personally? I thought he quit on us,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said Thursday. “I don’t fault him, but I did think he quit on us. He let us down — as a teammate. For a guy that came in, of his caliber, his leadership quote-unquote, I expected more from him. I held him to a higher standard, me personally. But he handled it the way he wanted to handle it.
Ninth-year linebacker Clay Matthews echoed the thoughts of Clinton-Dix:
“I think it definitely has the power to galvanize a locker room. Because it shows you – especially going through difficult times – it shows you who’s in and who isn’t,” Matthews said. “We’ll obviously discover that more and more as the season goes on dealing with our starting quarterback being hurt and having a few losses. But you’re absolutely right: It brings guys together, like a refocus. It lets you know, ‘All right, get rid of the dead weight, and let’s focus on our locker room.’
In a division with the 7-2 Minnesota Vikings and 5-4 Detroit Lions, it will be an uphill climb for Green Bay to get into the postseason. Especially without Rodgers or Bennett. But the Packers are trying to turn the absence of the tight end into a positive.