As if the Martellus Bennett saga was not bizarre enough already, there is a new and significant wrinkle that has been reported on Friday morning.
After suddenly dropping out of practices and game action last week, the Green Bay Packers waived the veteran tight end on Wednesday, doing so with a “failure to disclose a medical condition” designation that affords the team the potential to pursue repayment of a portion of the signing bonus he received in March. The New England Patriots — Bennett’s team in 2016 — claimed him on Thursday.
Now we have word of the full medical reason for Bennett’s release. According to reports on Good Morning Football (and via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport), the Packers released Bennett because he has a torn rotator cuff.
Considering Bennett’s poor play as a receiver during the regular season, it is a fair question to ask whether he has been dealing with this injury for part or all of the season. If so, that would certainly help explain some of the inconsistencies that he has displayed on the field.
It would be unlikely that the injury occurred prior to the start of training camp, when every player receives a physical exam. Furthermore, the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement allows teams to request and perform physicals on players at the team’s discretion, according to the following language found in the standard player contract template in the CBA (emphasis added by this article’s author):
Player will undergo a complete physical examination by the Club physician upon Club request, during which physical examination Player agrees to make full and complete disclosure of any physical or mental condition known to him which might impair his performance under this contract and to respond fully and in good faith when questioned by the Club physician about such condition. If Player fails to establish or maintain his excellent physical condition to the satisfaction of the Club physician, or make the required full and complete disclosure and good faith responses to the Club physician, then Club may terminate this contract.
The Packers will surely be claiming that Bennett either did not report his shoulder injury during a physical, or that he did not report it to the medical staff. In either case, that would give the team the grounds it needs to go after his bonus money. The time frame of Bennett’s injury is still unknown, and details may never be made public. However, given the release designation, it presumably happened prior to the bye week, as Bennett practiced the following Tuesday and did not appear to have any issues.
Bennett now lands in New England, and the Patriots have a few options at this time. As Rapoport notes in his report, Bennett could try to play through the injury, or the Patriots could place him on injured reserve. Another option could be for the Patriots to return him to the waiver wire with a failed physical designation.
In any case, it seems reasonable to expect the Packers and Bennett to land in arbitration over the details of the injury and the $4.2 million of signing bonus money that currently remains on the Packers’ books for 2018.