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.

Belichick: Patriots have caught up after starting offseason 'five weeks behind'

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Belichick: Patriots have caught up after starting offseason 'five weeks behind'

FOXBORO -- After starting the offseason "five weeks behind," as Bill Belichick put it, the Patriots have caught up. 

"I think we’re probably caught up to where we are now," he said before Thursday's OTA practice at Gillette Stadium. "I think it’s being behind in draft, free agency and that type of thing.

"I think at this point, we’re ready for OTAs. We’ll be ready for training camp. I think that part of it we’ll be on schedule on. It’s the catching up on all the spring projects, draft and free agency. It’s the initial part of it."

Belichick made headlines on the morning after winning his fifth Lombardi Trophy with the Patriots when he said, "As of today, and as great as today feels and as great as today is, in all honesty we're five weeks behind in the 2017 season to most teams in the league. Fortunately we have a great personnel staff

"Look, in a couple weeks we're going to be looking at the combine, obviously the draft, all-star games have already occurred, and in a month we're into free agency, not to mention all the internal Patriots players (whose) contracts are up and we're going to have to work with in some form or fashion like every team in the league does."

Leaning on evaluations of players that began in the build-up to previous drafts, Belichick and his staff opted to trade away some of this year's draft capital for veterans like Brandin Cooks, Kony Ealy and Dwayne Allen. They also gave up their fifth-rounder to sign restricted free agent Mike Gillislee.

Before heading out to the team's third practice of the week -- the first week the Patriots were allowed to introduce helmets and run offense versus defense periods -- Belichick said that part of his focus will be spent on finding out how those players he picked up this offseason are progressing.

"Yeah, that’s definitely part of it," he said. "Seeing the new players, how they’re doing and also how they’re doing relevant to the rest of the other players that I’m a little more familiar with. Again, each year is a new year, so even though we’ve seen some of these guys multiple years, it’s still starting all over again, seeing where they are, how they’re progressing in their training and preparation for the season."

Brandin Cooks knows he'll still probably have to stash the arrows in 2017

Brandin Cooks knows he'll still probably have to stash the arrows in 2017

FOXBORO -- Toward the end of Thursday's OTA practice at Gillette Stadium, Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks caught a touchdown from Tom Brady in the back corner of the end zone despite close coverage from corner Malcolm Butler. Cooks reached behind him, as if he was pulling an invisible arrow from an invisible quiver on his back, starting what was once his signature touchdown celebration. 

But he stopped there. 

"I didn't want to shoot it," he said with a smile after the workout. "Just having fun out there with the guys, competing every day. That's what it's all about."

Cooks may have to continue showing restraint during the regular season when it comes to his post-touchdown choices. Even though the NFL has eased off of the penalties for certain celebrations, Cooks still probably won't be shooting any arrows in 2017.

"No, I'm gonna be respectful," he said. "If it's a penalty, it's a penalty. I'm not going to do anything to hurt the team . . . I think it still will be [a penalty]."

Cooks was not able to execute his preferred celebration after it was made clear last season that imitating archery was off-limits. Josh Norman was fined $10,000 last season for his bow-and-arrow act. 

There is a biblical origin story to Cooks' celebration, he told the New Orleans Advocate last year. 

"Send forth lightning and scatter your enemy, and shoot your arrows and rout them," Cooks said, referring to Psalms 144:6. "I just remember it sticking with me for such a long time, I remember thinking, maybe I can do something with this."

He added: ”I’ve been doing it for three years now, and there was never a complaint about it. Now, all of a sudden, there is. It just reminds me that, it's almost as if they try to take so much away from us, but for something like this, that means so much to someone that has nothing to do with violence, it's frustrating. I'll definitely continue to speak my opinion about it, and if they have a problem with it, so be it."

After the NFL announced that it was relaxing its policy on penalizing celebrations, Cooks tweeted "#shootyourarrows" four times with several bow-and-arrow emojis. But just a few days later, he appeared resigned to keeping his celebration in moth balls so that his team wouldn't be penalized for an act that the league might deem "threatening." He wasn't thrilled.

"It's for God," he said, "so if that's threatening, then I think we've got a problem."