FOXBOROUGH — The B in Marty B. is for back.
As in, he’s baaaack.
The Patriots claimed tight end Martellus Bennett off waivers on Thursday, a day after he was released by the Green Bay Packers, and eight months after he left, Super Bowl ring in tow, as a free agent in March.
The Patriots hope he can give them the same boost he did last year, when he served as the primary tight end late in the season and through the playoffs while Rob Gronkowski was injured.
Bennett is still suffering from a shoulder injury, one of many injuries he dealt with for much of last season, despite playing all 19 games. The Packers waived him with the designation that he failed to report a medical condition, setting up a potential grievance claim. The 30-year-old has missed the last two games and already had been ruled out for Green Bay’s game on Sunday.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Bennett Thursday morning, before the claim was official, and had little to say.
“I think I’ve spoken about that numerous times last year . . . I’m sure we have transcripts of that. I can’t imagine [we don’t],” Belichick said. “I must be on the record talking about him 100 times.”
When and if he’s able to play, the Patriots could use Bennett to bolster their production in the red zone. Bennett caught 55 passes on 73 targets for 701 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He caught 24 passes on 38 targets for 233 yards and no touchdowns in seven games for the Packers this year.
New England has gotten little from backup tight ends Dwayne Allen (zero catches) and Jacob Hollister (three catches, 37 yards). Receivers Chris Hogan (shoulder) and Danny Amendola (knee) are also nursing injuries.
The Patriots’ needs at tight end and in the passing game have been soothed by the fact that Gronkowski has mostly been healthy and is having another Pro Bowl-caliber season. But Gronkowski’s workload has been heavy without another solid option at the position.
Gronkowski has been on the field for 80 percent of the offensive snaps, and after the win over the Chargers Oct. 29 seemed to express that he was getting fatigued.
“I’ve just got to go out there and just be on top of my game the whole time,” Gronkowski said. “Some plays here and there I do good and others I feel like I just don’t have it for that one. I just have to play all four quarters, every play, to the max.”
The playful, talkative Bennett could help reduce Gronkowski’s workload in order to keep him fresh for a playoff run, at a cheap price.
Green Bay signed Bennett to a three-year, $21 million contract in March. The contract included a $6.3 million signing bonus, and the Packers could claim that Bennett needs to return $4.2 million of that, prorated for the final two years of his deal.
The Patriots will owe Bennett $423,529 in prorated salary for the remainder of the season, plus 46-man active roster bonuses at $37,500 per week. New England will have the option to pick up the remaining two years of Bennett’s contract in March but can choose not to and get out of the deal with no hit to their salary cap. Bennett said on social media Oct. 28, over the Packers’ bye week, that he thinks this season will be his last.
If the Packers win a grievance claim, the Patriots would get any resulting salary-cap credit despite not having to pay Bennett’s signing bonus.
Even if Bennett is too banged up to contribute, the Patriots won’t have paid much. If their claim does work out, the 29 teams that passed on Bennett will be kicking themselves.
The Patriots’ need for a tight end and status as a contender (teams out of the hunt may have worried that Bennett would rather hang up his cleats than slog it out with them) likely created the perfect storm where the 10-year veteran fell to them.
In order to make room for Bennett, the Patriots cut defensive end Geneo Grissom, a 2015 third-round draft pick whose role had mostly been on special teams. Grissom had been a healthy scratch the last two games, and is practice squad eligible.