Packers’ locker room gets a makeover
Addition of Bennett shakes up culture
For more than a decade now, the Green Bay Packers locker room has largely been a character-free zone.
Players with larger-than-life personalities like Chad Johnson (who later became Chad Ochocinco), Jim “Super Bowl Shuffle” McMahon or a playboy like Joe Namath simply wouldn’t fly in Ted Thompson’s Green Bay.
While Thompson undoubtedly has size and speed ratios when he acquires players, it’s often felt like he’s had sound requirements, as well. And basically, the only rule is that “less is more.”
Under Thompson, Green Bay’s locker room has been packed largely with vanilla personalities. Rocky road and rainbow sherbet are for other teams.
But hold onto your scoopers. Things are about to get really interesting.
The Packers began their off-season program this week, and 2017 could be one of the more entertaining in recent memory. At least when it comes to personalities.
When Thompson signed free-agent tight end Martellus Bennett last month, he did two things.
First, and most importantly, Thompson gave Green Bay one of the top five tight ends in football and its most complete player at that position since Mark Chmura. Second, Thompson livened up the locker room and made his team more interesting — at least off the field — than it’s been in years.
What’s next? A spot on Hard Knocks?
“He’s a bit of a renaissance man, and I think that’ll be a good thing, a fun thing,” Thompson told reporters in Phoenix recently during the NFL’s owners’ meetings. “Maybe he’ll educate myself and some of the players.”
Renaissance man is one way to put it. Outspoken, candid, honest, refreshing is another.
During a recent conference call with Wisconsin media members, Bennett was asked where he was at the time.
“I’m on earth,” he said. “And it’s big, because I’m not always on earth.”
He’s not kidding. And wherever Bennett has been, it’s almost always been amusing.
Consider a few of his most outlandish statements in recent seasons:
Bennett, who played for Chicago from 2013-’15, was asked about those Bears teammates. “We just had a bunch of bitches on the roster. That’s why we didn’t win games. And coaches like the bitches.”
Bennett wasn’t as wowed by Disney’s hit movie “Frozen” as the rest of the world. “In ‘Frozen,’ there’s not one black character in Arendelle,” he said. “I don’t even know where Arendelle is, but there’s gotta be a black person somewhere. One of us made it over there, goddamn it.”
And when Bennett was traded to New England in 2016, he said, “Dr. Seuss said, ‘No one can be you-er than you.’ Oscar Wilde said, ‘Be yourself, because everyone else is taken.’ I can only be one person. I just try and continue to be who I am and don’t change that. I’m a little chameleon. I just try and fit in wherever I am. When you’re authentic, people appreciate that.”
Bennett is open and honest and will discuss everything from NASA to rap music. Bennett has dubbed himself a “black unicorn” and called himself the Kanye West of the NFL. He plays the trombone, the trumpet and clarinet and lists Dr. Suess and Harry Potter among his heroes. Bennett even publishes children’s books with his company, The Imagination Agency.
Bennett has bashed former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. And Bennett, who began his career in Dallas, said that Cowboys tight end Jason Witten treated him much like Brett Favre once did to Aaron Rodgers.
“I hated Jason Witten,” Bennett said. “I appreciated his game, but I always hated him.”
Opponents might hate trying to defend Bennett this season.
Bennett, who declared for the NBA draft right out of high school but later changed his mind, had a somewhat slow start to his NFL career. Over the last five seasons, though, Bennett has averaged 63.6 receptions and 5.2 touchdowns per season.
At 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, Bennett once ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds — the exact time New England’s Rob Gronkowski did. And even at 30 now, Bennett runs well enough to pose incredible mismatches for safeties and linebackers everywhere.
Making Bennett even more dangerous is the fact he’s one of the few tight ends in today’s NFL that blocks as well as he receives.
“To me, he is one of the best or potentially be the best tight end in the National Football League,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said at the NFL owners’ meetings. “It’s my responsibility to make sure I create those opportunities for him to succeed. He has very good tape. He was a very productive player in an outstanding offense.”
Green Bay’s offense, which caught fire in the second half of the 2016 season, figures to be even better with Bennett in tow.
And things could become even more interesting off the field.
“I’m kind of getting used to winning now, you know what I’m saying?” Bennett said at the end of the 2016 regular season. “At first, it’s like, ‘Yeah!’ It’s like the first time having sex. And then your second time and the your third time, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s pretty cool. I’m getting better at it.’ It’s really fun.”
Yep, having Bennett in Green Bay is going to be a whole lot of fun.
Former Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, now with the Packers, celebrates after the AFC title game.