When Martellus Bennett sat down to watch Super Bowl XLVI in his Texas home, he was five weeks from becoming a free agent. By the time the Giants had concluded their victory over the New England Patriots, Bennett had an idea where he might be going, because of the serious knee injuries Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum suffered in the game.
"My wife and I were watching the Super Bowl," said the newest Giant, "and I said, 'Both tight ends just tore their ACL. We could end up in New York.'"
Bennett's prediction was realized today, when he signed a contract with the Giants, who filled a prominent hole in their offense with a player they believe can be one of the NFL's best at his position.
"We had a very good, open, forthright visit with Martellus today, and we are excited to have him join the Giants family," General Manager Jerry Reese said. "He's ready to go to work and wants to prove he can be one of the top tight ends in the NFL; we think the sky is the limit for him here."
"In our situation it's a perfect match, because here we are with two guys that aren't going to be able to go," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "We get a guy with this quality and we can say to him, 'You go out on the field, you go from less than 30 percent play time to 70-75-80 percent play time just by virtue of if you come here and if you are willing to pay the price to be what you want to be. Here's the opportunity.'"
Bennett, 6-6 and 265 pounds, was second on the Dallas depth chart behind five-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten. He played in 60 regular season games with 31 starts for the Cowboys. He caught 85 passes for 846 yards and four touchdowns (all of them as a rookie in 2008). Bennett has also played in two postseason games – both in 2009 – with one start and caught three passes for 27 yards.
"I'm just happy to be able to come here and get a chance to be the starter and work with a guy like Eli (Manning) and with guys around me like Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks," Bennett said. "In Dallas it was the same thing with Dez (Bryant), but I think it's different for me now because I get the chance to step up and really show what I can do."
Coughlin is excited to have Bennett in a Giants uniform.
"What you have is a talented athlete who played behind an all-pro," Coughlin said. "Who is not very satisfied, is not very fulfilled, is anxious. He is anxious to prove the quality of athlete and football player that he can be. If you go back to '08, '09, '10, '11, you can see spots where he flashes as what he could be.
"He feels like he hasn't scratched the surface of what he can do. And he's a young, aspiring, athletic tight end who can run. He'll be up the seams at 6-6, 265. He can run up the seams with speed and be up over the top of a lot of people. So we're excited about that. He's got a ways to go, but he'll work at it. This could be a terrific move for both him and us."
The Giants believe Bennett can be a productive all-around tight end. Last year, their tight ends caught 55 passes, including 38 by Ballard. But the Giants finished last in the NFL in rushing yardage, which Coughlin will surely emphasize in the offseason and in training camp. Improvement will depend not only on the running backs, but on the blockers – including the tight ends.
Bennett thinks he's the right man for the job.
"In Dallas, my main role was to block, run block," he said. "I think I was a big part of the run offense that we had out there. I actually enjoy blocking, honestly. The thing I like about coming here, the situation here is that I don't only have to block. I get a chance to do more things. Last year I only had 23 targets with the Cowboys and I played a whole lot of snaps. I think this year I'll get a chance to show both ends of the spectrum. I don't like to be labeled. I don't want to be labeled as a pass-catching tight end or a blocking tight end. I just want to be a tight end."
Bennett joined the Cowboys as a second-round draft choice from Texas A&M in 2008, the 61st overall selection.
As a rookie he played in all 16 games with seven starts and tied for second on the team with four touchdown receptions. He caught 20 passes for 283 yards, a 14.2-yard average. The following year, Bennett played in 14 games with six starts and missed two contests due to the lingering effects of a concussion. He finished the season with 15 receptions for 159 yards.
In 2010, Bennett played in all 16 games with 11 starts and finished with a career-high 33 receptions, for 260 yards. He had a career-high seven receptions vs. Chicago on Sept. 19 and a season-long 32-yard reception in a victory over the Giants on Nov. 14 in Jason Garrett's head coaching debut.
Last year, Bennett played in 14 games with seven starts and had 17 catches for 144 yards.
Bennett believes he is capable of posting impressive receiving numbers, but didn't get the chance playing with Witten, whose 696 receptions placed him third among tight ends in NFL history.
"Being behind Witten, of course it was frustrating at times as a competitor, but Witten is great," Bennett said. "He's a great tight end. He's one of the best to do it right now and one of the best to ever do it. Being behind him I was able to watch and learn a lot of things from him. We talk a lot more now – the way he ran routes, the way he handled himself, I got to learn a lot of that stuff, and just playing the game and the way to play. That's one thing I learned from watching him. I hope him the best, continue the success that he's had in Dallas. It's been amazing watching him."
Bennett was a consensus prep football player and an outstanding basketball player at Taylor High School in Alief, Texas. At Texas A&M, he caught 105 passes and twice lettered on the basketball team. He then spent his first four NFL seasons in Texas. But he said he's excited about moving to the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area.
"My wife went to Sarah Lawrence (College) right outside of New York – her face was lighting up," Bennett said. "So it's a blessing to be out here and I'm going to honor it. And I'm humbled by this situation to come out here and get a chance to really play in a city like this and with the Super Bowl champions. They won two in the last four years, they're always a contender and always a team that looks to be in the playoffs, just not trying to get to the playoffs. It's like we're expected to be in the playoffs.
"The one thing I've really needed the last couple of years is a fresh start. I feel like coming up here is a fresh start. I've been in Texas for half of my life, really. I'm excited about it. I'm excited about the culture that the city brings and the melting pot of people. I think it's going to be a great experience, all around."
CONFERENCE CALL TRANSCRIPT
Q: We understand it's a one year deal. Is that correct?
A: Yes, ma'am.
Q: How do you feel about that?
A: I feel awesome.
Q: Why is one year a good idea?
A: I think it gives them a chance to see who I really am as a player and as a person. For me, it's a performance thing so they get to see who I am as a player, and I get to come in and show them what I can do. I think it's a great situation for me coming in here with the quarterback and the guys they have around and the way they put in the organization. I'm just happy to be part of the situation. I'm truly blessed to be here.
Q: Do you think we got to see who you are as a player the last few years?
A: No. I think at times you got a glimpse, but I was in a limited role. I only played like 30 percent of the snaps while I was in Dallas. I think in a larger role I could do so much more. I think the sky's the limit. I don't think anyone has really seen who I am as a player and what I have to offer. So I think this is the best situation for me and my family and for me as an athlete because, I don't want to say I have a lot to prove, but I have a long to-do list. So I have a lot of things I need to do as a football player. I think this is a place where it gives me the opportunity to do everything that I want to do.
Q: Can you tell us about the courting from the Giants? Did you identify them right away and decide that you really liked them?
A: Yeah, when I got here I met with coach Pope. Once we started talking, we hit it off. It was kind of like love at first sight. Once we started talking, I almost asked him to marry me. So I'm excited about this situation with the coaches, and everybody in this organization has been great, just sitting down and conversing with everyone that I could. I pretty much have met everyone here. I think both sides are excited about the opportunity that we have.
Q: You said in a recent interview that you were a 60-plus catch guy. Have you always seen yourself that way and was it just a limited role in Dallas that prevented you from getting there?
A: Like I said, I had a great time in Dallas. I learned a lot as a player and the organization was great to me. I was in a situation where I may not have gotten to play as many snaps as I wanted and do some of the things that I wanted to do, as far as receiving and playing a whole lot, but I got to play with one of the greatest of all time, that's going to go down in history as one of the greatest, Jason Witten. I may not have caught a lot of balls while I was there, but I learned a lot about football just watching him, how he did things, how to get open, how to play ball. In the long run it was a successful trip for me in Dallas. I just think that it's time for me to move on and be my own guy.
Q: Were you comfortable knowing that the tight end is not used as much in the passing game here?
A: I thought Jake Ballard, I thought him and Beckum did a great job. Ballard, before he got hurt for the first time, he was the leading receiver on the team. So I think he did a great job and I think I'm coming in with a group of guys that's very talented. It's not about me. We're going to be a strong corps when those guys get healthy. I'm looking forward to playing next to them. I was fortunate to play with a guy, Jake's a young guy to me, being this is my fifth year in the league – to get in there and teach him some of the things that I learned from Witten and learn some of the things that he knows here in the offense already. I think we could be a really good tandem. I thought the tight ends here were doing a great job. I'm not trying to push anybody to the side. I just feel like I have something different to offer to the table than they do. And I think we'll be a good combination.
Q: What's that different thing that you feel you have to offer?
A: One is I'm a totally different type of blocker than he is. Being a blocking tight end in the NFL, it takes time to learn to do that and something that I'll progress at. I'm a stretch the field type guy. I like to get vertical and things like that. I believe I can create a lot of mismatches all over the field.
Q: Do you feel like you could be at the level of Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham?
A: Yeah. No doubt.
Q: What makes you think that?
A: I just continue to work hard. You look at those guys, they get a lot of opportunities to make a lot of plays. I think I'm going to get a lot of those opportunities. I'm going to seize the moment. So right now I'm just living in the moment and I look forward to getting out there on the field and having more opportunities to really play. I always looked at myself as a good player, but I always want to be great. I think this is a place where I can be great.
Q: You said it was love at first sight with coach Pope. Why is that?
A: Coach Pope just seems like a guy you want to have a beer with. He's lived 70 years of life. Anyone who's been around that long, there's a lot of knowledge there. There's a lot of wisdom. Just from our conversations, just talking about football and life, we just clicked right away. I think he understood me more than I thought he would when I came in. It was just one of those things. Sometimes you just click with people and sometimes you don't. I clicked with him.
Q: After four years of being a Cowboy, is it weird to be a Giant?
A: It's kind of weird. I've been playing against these guys for four years, but at the end of the day it's business. People leave Dell all the time to go work for Mac. It's a business at the end of the day and, like I said, I loved everything about the Cowboys organization and I had a good time there and I enjoyed every moment of it. But for me, it's not really just going to a rival team. It's about being in the better situation.
Q: Did you reach out to Chris Canty at all?
A: Yeah, I saw him earlier. I talked to him earlier – and Justin Tuck. I saw most of those guys up here in the facility earlier. I'm pretty cool with most of the guys because we play against each other a lot. They all were telling me to sign the dotted line already and kept asking me if I did it yet. I'm glad they came up here. I look forward to meeting the rest of the team.
Q: Did they talk to you about your role? Do you expect to be an every down guy?
A: That's what I want to be and that's why I chose this place and I think I have a chance to do that. I think that's what I'm built for. So yeah, I do see myself as an every down guy. I don't feel like anything is given to me here and that was expressed in all of the meetings. They expect me to come in here and work hard and earn every opportunity that I get. And that's something that I want to do. I don't want anything given to me. I just want to show them that, 'Hey, this is what you got.' And earn what I deserve and get what I deserve to get.
Q: Do you see yourself being here a long time with the Giants?
A: Yeah, I think so. I'm already pretty comfortable. I'm already looking for places to live. I might be out here in a couple of weeks already. I'm ready to get started. I'm going to try to give Eli a call as soon as possible and see where he's at and try to get with him as soon as I can and just get to work.