Patriots To-Do List: Pats shouldn't over-extend for Bennett

Patriots To-Do List: Pats shouldn't over-extend for Bennett

With the glow of Super Bowl LI finally beginning to fade -- a little -- it's time to start looking ahead to 2017. Over the next few days, we'll look at the Patriots' to-do list: Things they need to care of as the offseason begins. Today: tight end Martellus Bennett.

What will Martellus Bennett do? What’s today? The soon-to-be-free agent has sent all manner of mixed messages about where he wants to play next season and what will inform his decision.

In the “he’s leaving” column are his statement that teams overpay for free agents who are “Super Bowl champs”  and a couple of instances in the Patriots locker room this year when, completely unprompted, Bennett started a soliloquy about not being with the Patriots next season.

In the “he’s staying” column are Bennett’s comments that he loves it in New England, both for football and marketing opportunities for life after football.

PATRIOTS TO-DO LIST:

The Patriots paid Bennett more than $5 million last season and he’s collected more than $25M in his nine-year career. 

For his line of work, resume and skill set, that’s very good but – at 30 – the sand is almost out of the big-earnings hourglass.

What did the Patriots get for their $5M in 2016? Good return. Bennett played every game (many with serious pain), caught 55 balls for 701 yards (the 12.7 YPC average his highest since 2008) and a career-high seven touchdowns. He was a pretty inconsistent blocker but some of that can be linked to playing hurt. He also caught 10 of the 11 passes sent his way in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl. Post-Gronk, the next tight end on the roster behind Bennett was Matt Lengel. And that was it. So the team should be damn happy it traded for him.

Going forward? The team will try to keep the term short and it has to be wary of the Rob Gronkowski landscape. Gronk’s making about $4.75M in salary and bonuses this season (his contracts balloons to salaries of $8M and $9M in 2018 and 2019). The top-tier tight ends are making more than $9M in salary.

With both those situations in mind, the Patriots should slide a three-year, $18M offer across to Bennett with $10M guaranteed and see what happens.  

If a team out there decides it wants to blow Bennett out of the water, c’est la vie. The Patriots can comb the draft and free agency (Eagles RFA Trey Burton would be a very intriguing target since he’s marooned on the Eagles depth chart and is a special teams maven and crisp route-runner).

There should be no hard feelings on either side if Bennett goes someplace else. He was good for the Patriots and the Patriots were good for him. It’s on Bennett to decide if the relationship is more than a one-year stand.

Curran: Patriots are likely to finish unbeaten this season

Curran: Patriots are likely to finish unbeaten this season

FOXBORO -- Resistance is futile. 

You see this team out there scampering around from drill to drill on a cloudy, late-July day, not a lollygagger to be seen, everything moving with military precision, and you know what it looks like? 

It looks like 80-something players and a coaching staff starting NFL training camp. 

What is it really? It's the first day of work for the NFL's greatest dynasty as it embarks on what will likely be a historic campaign. 

Never mind "may." Never mind "has a chance." It is LIKELY the Patriots will be the first team to ever win 19 games in a single NFL season. 

They don't want to hear that and are already dousing the thought of perfection by labeling it stupid, ridiculous, or disrespectful.

Between now and the start of the season, a parade of indignant former players, coaches and executives will snort and chortle at how absurd the conversation is. 

Frankly, they don't know what the hell they're talking about. 

That won't stop all of them from scoffing at the prospect of 19-0 the same way Curtis Strange scoffed at Tiger Woods back in 1996 when Woods said coming in "second sucks and third is worse." You'll learn, Strange said. 

Strange learned. Everybody learned. Maybe the experts should have seen it coming with Tiger. Maybe not. 

But with the 2017 Patriots, a failing to see what's likely to happen means willfully ignoring facts to do it. The Patriots went 17-2 last year. They lost to Buffalo because their third-string quarterback's thumb was dangling. They lost to Seattle on a night they handed the ball to the Seahawks repeatedly and still were at the Seattle 1-yard line with 30 seconds left with a chance to send the game to overtime but came away with nothing. 
 
They played poorly in the AFC Divisional Playoff against Houston and won by 18. They played "meh" against the Steelers in the AFC Championship and led 33-9 after three quarters. (Don't "But Le'Veon Bell" me. Would Le'Veon Bell have been covering Chris Hogan? No? Okay. Pay attention). 

In the Super Bowl, they spotted Atlanta -- a team being favorably compared to the Greatest Show on Turf Rams -- 25 points, and they wiped out that 25-point deficit in 23 minutes of play. 

Since they walked off the field in Houston, they added a Pro Bowl corner named Stephon Gilmore to play opposite their other Pro Bowl corner, Malcolm Butler. They added a wide receiver named Brandin Cooks, who caught 162 passes the past two seasons for 2,311 yards and 17 touchdowns. And they will also unveil once again the best tight end of his generation, Rob Gronkowski. 

They have a head coach who is definitely the best of the free agency era, probably the best of the Super Bowl era and arguably the best of all time. Their quarterback has even fewer qualifiers around his greatness and legacy. 

The crème de la crème of the rest of the league is sludge. Smug Aaron Rodgers is tethered to the moon-faced buffoon in Green Bay, Mike McCarthy, a head coach who could overcomplicate ordering coffee. In Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger is fat and fresh off an offseason spent contemplating retirement and Ring Dings. The Cowboys' maturity issues start with their 70-something owner and cascade right down to their enabled superstars Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant. Denver? Trevor Simien. Atlanta? Their motto this year is "Embrace the Suck." What does that even mean? That they enjoyed the Red Wedding that was the second half of the Super Bowl so much, they just want to roll around in humiliation for another year? Dear God. 

My point with all that is that there is no Peyton Manning out there to be the Frazier to Brady's Ali. And while there may be a coach out there with gray matter who could battle Belichick, that coach hasn't spent 18 seasons collecting assistants and coordinators and creating a program where they can tell a player to shit in the corner and the player asks, "What color?"

Don't fight it. Don't scoff at it. Don't be like those people who, in 2001 and 2002 were still saying Tom Brady was a product of the system and that the Patriots would rue the day they traded Drew Bledsoe within the division. Open your eyes. Think critically. What do you see.