New England Patriots TE Martellus Bennett is set to hit the free agent market next month.
Apparently, the 29-year-old Super Bowl champion isn’t overly concerned about jumping into the frenzy that has become NFL free agency.
With Super Bowl ring in (on) hand, “Marty” must now decide where he will play football in 2017. Teams can officially sign free agent players when the market opens up on March 9 at 4:00pm EST.
The Gronkowski Factor
New England’s top tight end threat, Rob Gronkowski, was placed on injured reserve with a back injury in early December. Despite his medical concerns, he is expected to return to the field in 2017. Gronkowski will be entering the fourth year of a six-year, $54 million contract he signed back in 2014.
In 2017, Gronkowski’s base salary is set at $4.25M but the 27-year-old is actually on the books for a total cap hit of $6.75M. That cap hit will rank fifth highest on the Patriots roster and ninth highest among all NFL tight ends. His cap total will increase to $11M and $12M in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Looking Back on 2016
Bennett is finishing out the final year of his four-year, $20.4M contract that carried over when he was traded from Chicago last March. New England took on his average annual salary of $5.1M.
In 16 games this season, Bennett hauled in 53 of 77 targets for 701 yards (12.7 YPC) and seven touchdowns. He caught 11 more passes for 98 yards during New England’s Super Bowl run.
The 6’6″, 275-pound tight end played through injuries for much of this season, most notably down the stretch. Now entering his age 30 season, Bennett is likely facing his last long-term, “big money” deal.
On Tuesday, NFL insider Ian Rappoport reported that there is a “real possibility” that Bennett could part ways with the Patriots.
#Patriots TE Martellus Bennett will test free agency. Based on his asking price & likely offers, it’s a real possibility he exits, I’m told
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 22, 2017
Tight Ends Around the League
Looking ahead to next season, here are the top-15 tight ends ranked in order of average salary:
*table courtesy of Spotrac
Given the nature of the open market, Bennett could command as much as $6-8M per season.
Other notable tight ends who could ask for similar money this offseason are Jordan Cameron (28), Jermaine Gresham (28) and Jared Cook (29).
Analyzing the Financials
According to Spotrac.com, Martellus Bennett’s estimated market value is $5.92M, which would amount to a $17.7M contract over the span of the next three seasons. This would mark a slight raise from his previous average salary of $5.1M.
The Patriots currently have approximately $62.9M in available cap space to work with this offseason. However, the question remains whether New England is willing to invest a large chunk of that in their tight end position group.
While not completely out of the question, the chances are low given the rest of the team’s 2017 free agent class.
Not including Bennett, the Patriots will have $7.36M (6.67% of total cap space) allocated to their tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Rob Housler) in 2017. While that remains slightly below the league average of 7.2%, it places them ninth highest among NFL teams. Leading the way are the Carolina Pathers with 11.45% of their 2017 salary cap invested into tight ends.
Leading the way are the Carolina Pathers with 11.45% of their 2017 salary cap invested into tight ends. A new deal with the free agent tight end could easily catapult the Patriots to the top of that list.
Bennett, as well as the Patriots organization, are as unpredictable as they come. So a re-up is not entirely out of the question. But all things considered, it remains more likely than not that Bennett could be playing ball elsewhere in 2017 and beyond.