There’s always a method to Bill Belichick’s madness.
Everything he does is, in his very own words, “what’s best for the team.” Sometimes, that’s just not a good enough answer. But every single time, it’s the truth. He actually believes that. It’s what I’m convinced of.
So when NFL.com reporter Ian Rapoport tweets out, that sources tell him the New England Patriots “are making Martellus Bennett an offseason priority,” it’s just another example of Belichick doing what’s best for the team.
At first glance, that report draws a sarcastic “no kidding” reaction. I mean, why wouldn’t the Patriots want to re-sign Bennett? He’s the perfect tight end to complement Rob Gronkowski. It’s a no-brainer to bring Bennett back when he becomes a free agent at season’s end.
Then you read Rapoport’s next tweet. He said, “Discarded by one of the worst teams, Martellus Bennett has been everything the Pats wanted. He’s battled through injuries. Will be rewarded.”
Look, I don’t know who Rapoport’s sources are by name. Nor is that any of my business. What I do know is that he has some damn good ones. And given his experience covering the Patriots for The Boston Herald, I’m sure he’s got plenty of connections in New England.
That said, there’s no way his sources here aren’t coming from the Patriots’ organization directly. It’s another message that was sent, as Belichick tries to keep doing what’s best for the team.
The report came on a day in which the Patriots were in San Francisco to take on the 49ers, while defensive end Jabaal Sheard was left home as a healthy scratch. It should also be noted that Sheard — like Bennett — will be a free agent after this season, making the phrase “contract year” a popular one in Foxboro this year.
Linebacker Jamie Collins was another impending free agent, and he was traded to Cleveland three weeks ago. This all comes after defensive end Chandler Jones — another player in his contract year — was traded to Arizona before the season began.
It’s led to plenty of questions about the Patriots' defense, especially after the Sunday night loss to the Seattle Seahawks at Gillette Stadium. Which is why Belichick has been the recipient of some criticism in recent weeks.
Belichick doesn’t care about that criticism. He cares about doing what’s best for the team. And if telling a reporter about wanting to reward an impending free agent who’s showing up and doing his job is what’s best for the team, then consider the Patriots guilty as charged.
I’m speculating, of course. But why else would this be news right now? Why would a Patriots source feel the need to all of a sudden open up to the media about a contract situation in the middle of the season? That’s not necessarily the Patriot Way. Unless there’s a purpose to this leak. And that’s what it feels like.
The Patriots aren’t just sending the message that they want to re-sign Bennett. They’re hinting that Bennett hasn’t let his upcoming free-agent status get in the way of his football mindset. And in the process, they’re implying that some of the moves they’ve recently made have been the result of individual mindsets getting lost in the money.
I don’t blame anyone who wants to get paid and cares about their contract. I’m just telling you that Belichick isn’t going to tolerate it if that mindset starts to take away from their on-field production. And the popular assumption is that Sheard was left home this past weekend because of his on-field performance.
Belichick doesn’t just hang up the phone on an agent, storm into the locker room, and tell the player that he’s traded or benched. But he certainly gauges how that player handles himself in the locker room, on the practice field, and on Sundays.
He’s seen Bennett perform during his contract year, and decided to pick this weekend to let everyone know he’ll be rewarded for it.
Believe me, the timing is no coincidence.