END GAME

Is­sues with Ben­nett have reached point team is seek­ing trade

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - ADAM L. JAHNS Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ adam­jahns. Email: ajahns@ sun­times. com

TE Ben­nett’s time with Bears ap­pears over as team seeks trade

The dis­tance of Martel­lus Ben­nett’s catches didn’t al­ways mat­ter. When Ben­nett made them dur­ing train­ing camp in 2014, for­mer coach Marc Trest­man would run to him.

To­gether, coach and player would jog back to the hud­dle. The pur­pose was to make sure Ben­nett was mov­ing. Ben­nett’s ten­dency to slowly walk back to hud­dles had irked the coach­ing staff and team­mates.

On one such oc­ca­sion in the same camp, a spe­cial­teams linebacker, who later was re­leased, ut­tered in earshot of the me­dia on the side­line for Ben­nett to “run it back.”

Fast for­ward to the present, where Ben­nett’s tur­bu­lent run with the Bears is near­ing its end. On Fri­day, ESPN re­ported the Bears are try­ing to trade Ben­nett with the help of his agent, Ken­nard McGuire.

It isn’t a sur­prise it has reached this point. It’s the re­sult of a strained re­la­tion­ship with a team that has spanned two coach­ing staffs.

At the NFL Scout­ing Com­bine, nei­ther gen­eral man­ager Ryan Pace nor coach John Fox of­fered much sup­port for Ben­nett, say­ing only he re­mained un­der con­tract.

Ben­nett left an un­pleas­ant first im­pres­sion with Pace and Fox when he skipped the vol­un­tary por­tions of the off­sea­son pro­gram in his pur­suit of a new con­tract.

Af­ter keep­ing a low pro­file for sev­eral weeks, Ben­nett’s frus­tra­tions fi­nally be­came pub­lic Nov. 4, when he ques­tioned his role. It came days af­ter he had three catches on five tar­gets for 32 yards in a loss to the Vik­ings.

“I just kind of keep my head down and go to work,” Ben­nett said. “Be­cause when you say some­thing, you be­come the [ jerk], even if it’s a valid point. So I just avoid drama. They don’t play the [ jerks].”

In the end, it was an­other sign more is­sues were com­ing.

At that point last sea­son, only two tight ends had more tar­gets than Ben­nett. His 58 tar­gets were the same amount he had at the same time in 2014, when he set ca­reer highs with 90 catches, 916 yards and six touch­downs.

A source said mem­bers of the or­ga­ni­za­tion be­came in­creas­ingly frus­trated with him.

Ben­nett sat out the Bears’ vic­tory against the Pack­ers on Thanks­giv­ing night be­cause of a bro­ken rib, which he suf­fered a week ear­lier against the Bron­cos. He later said he didn’t watch the game.

Ben­nett re­turned to make three catches for 14 yards against the 49ers on Dec. 4. Four days later, the Bears put him on in­jured re­serve. Con­sid­er­ing Ben­nett’s will­ing­ness to play through in­juries, the move said plenty about his sta­tus.

There were other dis­tress­ing mo­ments. Ben­nett was sus­pended for bodys­lam­ming first- round pick Kyle Fuller in camp in 2014. He also has crit­i­cized quar­ter­back Jay Cut­ler pub­licly on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions.

Sources said Ben­nett’s re­la­tion­ship with Trest­man’s staff also soured as they searched for ways to man­age him.

The Bears’ ef­forts to trade Ben­nett should be helped by a slim tight end draft class and Ben­nett’s con­tract sta­tus. He’s en­ter­ing the fi­nal year of a four- year deal. How­ever, his is­sues are well known, and with a base salary of $ 5.1 mil­lion for 2016, he’s look­ing for a new con­tract.

Say­ing good­bye to Ben­nett would leave the Bears ex­tremely thin at tight end. They’d like to re- sign Zach Miller, who broke out last sea­son with 34 catches for 439 yards and five touch­downs. But Pace ac­knowl­edged Miller, who is rep­re­sented by Drew Rosen­haus, might have to test free agency first.

Still, the Bears have been pre­pared for this sit­u­a­tion.

The Bears traded re­ceiver Bran­donMar­shall to the Jets be­fore free agency opened last March. Ben­nett nearly joined him out the door later on, but the Bears couldn’t find a trade part­ner be­fore or dur­ing the draft. Coin­ci­den­tally, McGuire rep­re­sents Ben­nett and Mar­shall.

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Martel­lus Ben­nett has a base salary of $ 5.1 mil­lion for 2016, the fi­nal year of his con­tract.

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