I don’t know if it is deliberate but Bill Belichick’s demeanor and dress remind me of the Emperor from Star Wars. It could be he is aware of this and likes such a negative image. It could be that the league promotes this image. Having an “Evil Empire” team is good for business. Baseball has done it with the Yankees for decades. It drives up ratings and attendance, as people want to see insult inflicted on teams that consistently win while theirs loses.
I don’t know, of course. But I thought this odd: Prior to Sunday night’s game against the Broncos, the Patriots acquired tight end Martellus Bennett from the Packers via the waiver wire. The Packers waived him due to an “undisclosed medical condition.” Economics are in play, as Aaron Rodgers is done for the season. The Packers’ claim to the national spotlight is gone. The team now wants to recoup some $4.3 million of his first year salary – part of a $21 million three-year contract*.
*(In football, contracts are not guaranteed beyond one year, so even though Martellus “signed a three-year deal” it is still “pay as you play” for the Packers, with only one year guaranteed. They want part of that one year back too.)
The whole affair is suspicious. Bennett had a superb year with the Patriots in 2016, with 55 catches for 701 yards and seven touchdowns. His average was 12.7 yards per catch. With the Packers this year he had 27 catches in six games for 271 yards (10.0 per catch). The zero touchdowns for the Packers factor diminishes his worth in the eyes of fans, but those statistics are right in line with his 430 catches for 4,558 years (10.6 per catch) career average. (His 30 touchdowns stat is just impressive.)
OK, it makes sense to a degree, Packers economizing, Bennett a liability for a team that is going nowhere this year. The question is, how did he then end up with the Patriots?
According to NBC Sports, Bennett’s agent also told other teams not to claim him off waivers, as he was retiring. Another report surfaced that Bennett had told his family he was retiring, but that looks planted.
The waiver wire is simply a right of first refusal by all other teams in the league when players are released. The first claiming right goes to the team with the worst record on the date of waiver. It then goes to the next team in line, and so forth, all the way up to the team with the best record, right now the Eagles. All sports leagues do this to prevent the top teams from colluding with losing teams to stock up on the best players. The team claiming a waived player can pay him his existing price tag and play him immediately, as the Patriots did last Sunday night, November 12, 2017 against the Broncos. If no team claims him, he is then a free agent and can sign with any team, or retire.
With that in mind, here are the teams that passed on Bennett before the Patriots got him (without regard to tie-breakers for the Steelers, Vikings, Saints and Rams, who like the Patriots were 6-2 on that date):
49ers, Browns, Giants, Buccaneers, Colts, Bears, Bengals, Broncos, Chargers, Texans, Jets, Raiders, Ravens, Cardinals, Dolphins, Falcons, Lions, Redskins, Bills, Cowboys, Jaguars, Seahawks, Titans, Chiefs, Panthers.
Do you mean to tell me that not one of these teams was willing to take a flyer on a player with Bennett’s credentials? Would a team perhaps claim him if only to deny his services to the Patriots? The Jets, Bills and Dolphins, in the AFC East with the Patriots, certainly had that incentive. And the hapless Broncos, sorely in need of offensive tools, felt the sting as Bennett caught three passes for 38 yards, including a long of 27 on Sunday night.
Did Bennett make it clear that he would only play for the Patriots, and that if any other team claimed him, he would retire? From appearances, he was simply being sent back to his former team. This is collusion.
Now that the GMs from the teams named above have all passed on him, and then seen him play and play well on Sunday night, they have to wonder if the Patriots are again up to their hanky-panky, this time abusing the waiver wire.
Here is what I think a likely scenario: The Packers, sans Rodgers, wanted to unload a financial burden. Patriots and Packers talked, and the Patriots agreed to take Bennett back. An “undisclosed medical condition” was invented and used as a cover story, a means of warning other teams away from claiming him. The path was cleared, and Bennett is now a Patriot.
Clay Mathews of the Packers knows what is up, and said as much:
“You know what, I think everybody knows the story there — we don’t need to talk about it much more. … Like I said, we’re focused on the guys in the locker room, but it’s an interesting story that will probably be talked about for a while.”
I interpret “… we don’t need to talk about it” as “… we are not allowed to talk about it.”
The Patriots are the showcase Evil Empire, and a team that perpetually suffers low draft choices due to too many wins. They use other means to sign the best players in the league. They regularly restock, where other teams have to go dumpster-diving to claim players to cover for injuries during the year.
The example of Martellus Bennett, then is a demonstration of how the league ensures that the Patriots remain evil. It is collusion, and every other team should be screaming bloody murder. But they are silent. What does that tell us?