Martellus Bennett was deemed too hurt to play for the Green Bay Packers, who cut him this week with the seldom-heard designation of "failure to disclose a physical condition."
Bennett then was claimed by the New England Patriots on Thursday and out on the practice field Friday. It would not be a stretch to see him suit up Sunday against the Denver Broncos even. He's listed as questionable for Sunday night's game.
It all feels a bit tidy, no?
Bennett's shoulder problems are not new, mind you. He played through them last season with the Patriots — gutted through them even — en route to their fifth Super Bowl title. Bennett played a key part in that run, especially after Rob Gronkowski went down for the season.
The injury clearly didn't dissuade the Packers from signing him (on his 30th birthday) in March to a three-year deal worth $21 million, including a $6.3 million signing bonus. This from a team that typically avoids free agency like the plague.
Although his production was not superb in the early going, Bennett appeared to be finding a foothold in the Packers' offense and developing some chemistry on the fly with Aaron Rodgers, who targeted him 28 times in the first four games.
Everything in Green Bay changed when Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone on Oct. 15 against the Minnesota Vikings. And it was just before that, Bennett claimed in a slew of Instagram posts on Friday, that his pain started getting worse. The shoulder was being treated by anti-inflammatory medication, Bennett wrote, but it wasn't getting better by the time the bye week hit.
So Bennett opted for surgery, he said. This was right around the same time he openly pondered whether this was his final season in the NFL.
But the bigger haymaker Bennett threw in his Insta-rant was that the Packers' team doctor, Patrick McKenzie, was trying to "persuade" Bennett to "play through a major injury" and "cover his own ass" in the process. Bennett went on to write: "Dr. McKenzie didn't make [sic] feel safe and was pushing to play which I thought was weird."
Bennett's social-media recollection of it is a bit disjointed and hard to follow. He immediately seems to undercut all of this, saying, "Not that he was trying to get me to play thru it but the way he was saying things."
This all just leads to more speculation, more unanswered questions and all of us left to doubt the story of either the Packers or Bennett. On the one hand, it would be hard to believe that the Packers knew nothing about the shoulder, an injury Bennett says he kept getting treated for during the course of this season. On the other, Bennett threw Dr. McKenzie under the bus but provides no damning, specific evidence of anything he said or did that would suggest some sort of malpractice or shady judgment.
Head coach Mike McCarthy laid out his understanding of the timeline.
"I just know what the facts are and how the timeline came about," McCarthy said. "I talked to him Tuesday [following the bye] after practice and he [had] a shoulder concern. I advised him to get the second opinions. He did that and he went to a number of them.
"The last medical conversation I was involved with in regards to Marty, they were talking about scheduling surgery. After that, then you have the termination and then the claim."
Yes, the Patriots brought him back and — boom — he not only cleared a medical exam but was on the field on Friday. Funny how that works out. Sometimes that's just the way it is ... like Jeremy Lane being sent to the Houston Texans in the Duane Brown trade, then being sent back to the Seattle Seahawks, who all of a sudden need Lane badly following Richard Sherman's season-ending Achilles tendon injury.
But in Bennett's case, unlike that of Lane, there's a whole lot of whens and whats that need answering. He says his shoulder has been a chronic deal; the Packers are acting like they just found out about this thing.
Could Bennett have forced the Packers' hand in releasing him? Sure. It wouldn't be the first time in NFL history that has happened. Could Bennett be telling the truth about the Packers' knowledge of it? Absolutely. Some NFL teams have a more liberal interpretation of health than others, and there's always pressure from coaches and executives to get players ready for games if they can tolerate pain to play through injuries.
But the reputation of the Packers and Dr. McKenzie is very strong and respected in league circles — they're known as being a team that errs on the side of caution, more so than other teams perhaps. Some might even call them a fairly conservative organization when it comes to these matters, and certainly others.
So that's where this whole story feels just a little off to us. And the convenience of the whole deal, landing softly in New England, where the Patriots are riding a four-game win streak with the ageless Tom Brady at the helm. It's an upgrade for Bennett, if he can play; otherwise, he either was looking at season-ending surgery or playing through pain with Brett Hundley at QB.
We're not sure what anodynes they serve in Foxborough, but we assume they're similar to the ones used in Green Bay. So will the Patriots keep him active and ask him to suit up? Or will they let him rest and see what they have in a few weeks? After all, it's a low-risk gamble for now, much like when they claimed Michael Floyd at the end of last season. If the Patriots choose not to pick up Bennett's $2 million bonus after the start of the 2018 league year, he'd be a free agent again and not count anything toward next year's salary cap.
We likely won't get more in the way of clarity on this story until Bennett says more or until we see what the Patriots' immediate plans are for him because it sounds like the Packers have moved on and will not say much more on the story. McCarthy made it clear he wasn't going to be adding anything more on the record.
Did Bennett mislead the Packers on his injury? Did the Packers try to coerce him to play through unreasonable pain? Neither are clear — but what is becoming more so is that one side or the other likely has some explaining to do on this matter.