Looking at Martellus Bennett’s Contract Situation

Bears tight end Martellus Bennett is unhappy with his contract and according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter is now available in a trade.  Bennett is in the third year of a four year contract that he signed with Chicago that averages $5.1 million per season and he will earn $5 million this year. Those numbers rank 13th and 12th respectively among the position. Is that a fair figure or does he deserve, (or perhaps more importantly is someone willing to give him) a raise.

At the time Bennett signed his contract I would certainly have considered the contract to be more than fair. Bennett had largely been a disappointment with the Dallas Cowboys before signing with the Giants on a one year contract. In New York, Bennett began to meet the expectations that the Cowboys had for him and that was enough to get him a, at the time, upper mid level contract with Chicago in free agency.

But in the last two years the market dynamics changed considerably for the position. Actually the market probably started to change days after Bennett signed his contract when Jared Cook signed a $7.02 million contract with the Rams that was a surprising deal. That was followed by big deals for unproven players like Dennis Pitta and Kyle Rudolph. The market then was turned upside down when Charles Clay and Julius Thomas sign monstrous contracts this offseason.

Over the last two seasons here is how Bennett stacks up statistically with the players who earn more than him.

PlayerAPY% Games PlayedTargets per GameRec. Per GameYards Per GameTD per GameCatch rate
Rob Gronkowski$9,000,00068.8%8.955.5078.000.7361.4%
Jimmy Graham$10,000,000100.0%8.345.3465.750.8164.0%
Greg Olsen$7,500,000100.0%7.314.9157.000.3867.1%
Antonio Gates$7,235,000100.0%6.634.5652.910.5068.9%
Martellus Bennett$5,100,000100.0%6.944.8452.340.3469.8%
Julius Thomas$9,200,00084.4%5.634.0047.300.8971.1%
Jason Witten$7,400,000100.0%6.284.2848.560.4168.2%
Jordan Cameron$7,500,00078.1%6.644.1653.640.3662.7%
Dennis Pitta$6,400,00021.9%7.715.1442.000.1466.7%
Charles Clay$7,600,00093.8%6.204.2345.470.3068.3%
Vernon Davis$7,350,00090.6%4.622.6937.760.5258.2%
Kyle Rudolph$7,300,00053.1%4.713.1832.000.2967.5%
Jared Cook$7,020,000100.0%5.753.2240.780.2556.0%

In the above table I have the player’s listed by their average ranking across the final five categories, just to get an idea of how the players have done. In general you can make an argument that he is the 5th most productive veteran despite earning $1.3M less than the next closest player (the always injured Pitta).  Bennett really doesn’t have a standout category, but he is steady across the board.

If we make each category a multiple of the contract’s annual value we get the following:

Rob Gronkowski$1,005,076$1,636,364$115,385$12,375,000
Jimmy Graham$1,198,502$1,871,345$152,091$12,307,692
Greg Olsen$1,025,641$1,528,662$131,579$20,000,000
Antonio Gates$1,092,075$1,585,753$136,751$14,470,000
Julius Thomas$1,634,211$2,300,000$194,518$10,350,000
Jordan Cameron$1,129,518$1,802,885$139,821$20,833,333
Jason Witten$1,178,109$1,728,467$152,381$18,215,385
Dennis Pitta$829,630$1,244,444$152,381$44,800,000
Charles Clay$1,225,806$1,795,276$167,155$25,333,333
Vernon Davis$1,590,672$2,732,692$194,658$14,210,000
Jared Cook$1,220,870$2,180,971$172,138$28,080,000
Kyle Rudolph$1,551,250$2,298,148$228,125$24,820,000

If we apply those averages to Bennett we get a salary range between $7 and $9.1 million, with an average of just under $8.3 million a year. So I think it’s fair to say that Bennett is certainly underpaid right now.

Now being underpaid, especially with two years remaining on a contract you signed as a veteran, doesn’t mean you should or will get a new contract, but it makes sense for Bennett to try. If Bennett plays his contract out he will be 30 when he hits free agency and while that may not be the kiss of death it is for other positions, it is not an ideal situation.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is the uncertainty that surrounds Chicago. Bennett right now is in a position of strength from a statistical standpoint. Whether those numbers will continue in a different style offense that has lost Brandon Marshall and stands to lose Matt Forte within a year is a matter of debate. The new staff has no allegiance to Jay Cutler either and if he goes the numbers most certainly will drop.

Last year Vernon Davis was in a similar spot and tried to play his cards to get an extension since he was coming off a terrific season. He knew his role would likely diminish in 2014 and with it his chance of top dollar. The 49ers never would extend him and Davis was a disaster. Another year like that and he will be playing for a very low salary as a free agent in 2016.  That is the kind of situation that Bennett wants to avoid.

I don’t believe the Bears would extend him. Often a new front office does not want to get a reputation for being very eager to re-negotiate team friendly contracts that have multiple years remaining. The Bears are undergoing a facelift and it is doubtful they see Bennett as part of a long term solution.  So they should be open to trading him and getting anything in return.

The question now is if a team would be willing to trade for him and extend him?  When you look at the current prices for free agents I would say it is clear that a market exists and that teams should be open to doing it. Because Bennett has two years remaining at just under $10.2 million, a team could conceivably extend him for $8 million a year over three new contract years, but have an effective cost of just $6.84 million in doing so. Since the new team, unlike Chicago, paid no bonus money or any other considerations they would clearly look at this as a 5, rather than 3 year deal. He is still a good bargain under $7 million.

Whether he would reach $8 million is of course debatable. My feeling is that at best he would get the $7.5M that is similar to Olsen. There is also the consideration that teams were unwilling to pay Clay and Cameron more than the $7.5M number and those teams that passed on them are the same ones that will be bidding here. While Bennett is better than those players he is also older and has less upside. There is also a question about chemistry with him. Realistically he might be looking at $7.2M a season, which would be an effective cost of about $6.4 million. I see that as reasonable.

If Chicago trades him they will gain $3.875M of cap room this year and get his $6.31M 2016 number completely off the books. They traded Marshall, who is 31 and a higher caliber player at a more important position, for a 5th round pick, so they can’t ask for much here either. For a 6th or 7th round pick I would think many teams would be interested, specifically a team like the Falcons who can desperately use a good veteran tight end.