The Chicago Bears offense isn’t exactly a juggernaut in its current form.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall is gone, taking his lengthy wingspan to the New York Jets. Running back Matt Forte will turn 30 late in 2015, and is coming off a season when he accounted for 35 percent of the Bears’ offensive yards while facing the punishment of 368 touches. And there’s now little beyond Alshon Jeffery on the wide receiver depth chart, with Eddie Royal the only offseason addition of note.
Royal will handle slot duties, and with their No. 7 overall pick the Bears could add a wideout, possibly West Virginia’s Kevin White. But as that possible top pick develops and quarterback Jay Cutler eases into Adam Gase’s offense after 21 turnovers in 2014, a sense of security is needed.
That came from tight end Martellus Bennett this past season, who was good at being large and reliable. The 6’6” Black Unicorn led all tight ends with 90 receptions while finishing with a career single-season high 916 receiving yards.
He’s the sort of guy who can be the foundation of an offensive rebuild. Perhaps that should be communicated to new Bears general manager Ryan Pace…
Bears entertaining trade offers for Pro Bowl TE Martellus Bennett, per league sources. Bennett wants a new contract in Chicago or anywhere.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 29, 2015
Pace has put Bennett on the trade block during the final hours before this year’s draft, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter. It’s a move likely motivated by both a desire to wipe the slate clean under new management, and an unwillingness to pay Bennett what he desires.
Bennett has been sitting out so far during the Bears’ offseason activities, choosing instead to prepare for the upcoming season on his own. He thinks his play has earned him more cash immediately and doesn’t plan to show up in camp until that pay day comes, according to Schefter’s sources.
And he’s right.
The instinct to accuse an athlete of greed and yell various NSFW words is often hard to resist for football fans when they hear of a holdout, or even a potential holdout. But here’s the reality: Players need to be paid according to their performance in the current market. That’s true for any job, and it doesn’t change in the NFL. If a player’s performance far exceeds his pay, then he shouldn’t run even a single wind sprint during OTAs and risk injury for non-guaranteed money.
Until contracts are guaranteed that will always be a decision players face, and a holdout is their only leverage. So instead of trading Bennett—a core offensive contributor on a team that doesn’t have many of them—the Bears should do something truly remarkable: pay the man.
Shipping off a highly productive asset to accumulate draft picks is done because the player in question is either old, or his contract demands aren’t affordable. One of those problems doesn’t exist for the Bears, and the other shouldn’t either.
Bennett is a ripe 28 yards old and is still several years away from entering a potential decline phase. And the Bears aren’t short on cash to give him the money he deserves. One of the top-producing tight ends in 2014 is playing under a contract that pays him an average annual salary of $5.1 million. That ranks a lowly 13th at the position, according to Spotrac, and Bennett would need a contract worth at least $7.5 million per year to be among the top five.
The Bears aren’t cap crunched at all and can easily afford to pay their tight end like he’s, well, a top tight end. Pace has $11.8 million to work with right now, again according to Spotrac, which is plenty of space to satisfy Bennett and still secure wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who’s playing out the final year of his rookie contract in 2015.
Bennett’s 125 targets last year led all tight ends, and for a reason: He’s massive with an ample catch radius. Cutler needs more offensive weapons like him, not less.