"The Patriot Way" has come to mean any number of things during Bill Belichick's tenure. Among them, the acquisition of veteran players on the cheap in free agency or via trade.
Well, Bill's boys have struck again, and in dealing for tight end Martellus Bennett, the New England Patriots have pulled off yet another move that carries little risk and a strong chance for a big payoff.
ESPN's Adam Schefter was among the first to report that the Patriots had acquired the 29-year-old in exchange for draft-pick compensation:
Wheeling and dealing continues: Bears are trading TE Martellus Bennett to Patriots for draft-pick compensation, league sources tell ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 16, 2016
Tom Curran of CSN New England had some additional insight into what exactly the Patriots will be giving up for Bennett:
Patriots will give up 4th and get back a 6th as well in Bennett deal. Late-round compensation still being worked out.— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) March 16, 2016
That the Chicago Bears were shopping Bennett should surprise exactly no one. Heading into the last year of a contract that will pay him over $5 million in 2016, Bennett's relationship with the Bears has been spiraling downward for some time.
Bennett was suspended by the team in 2014 for detrimental conduct, got into a Twitter spat with a teammate and skipped offseason workouts last year. He was scratched from a November game against Green Bay (due to either a practice-field dust-up or rib injury, depending on who you believe), after which Bennett gave Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune a rambling answer regarding his status with the club:
I just think there is a lot of (stuff) going on in the world that is more important than me talking about football. I'm not trying to contribute to the distractions when the real current events are going on. I just feel like there is no reason to be another distraction with the things that are going on in Chicago with the police and the killings and you know the bombings across the world and all that stuff, it's way more important than me sitting right here talking about football.
So I just feel like there is just no reason for me to talk. People's attention should be focused on what is really going on in the world.
There are a lot of situations going on. I just wish everybody would educate themselves on the things that are going on in the world and figure out ways we can make a difference, you know, like Gandhi said, 'Be the change that you wish to see in the world.'
Um...all righty then.
When the Bears re-upped Zach Miller on Monday, that just about sealed Bennett's ticket out of town.
However, while everyone expected Bennett to leave the Windy City, not many expected the Patriots to swoop in and snatch him up for pennies on the dollar.
Maybe we should have. Almost since the day Aaron Hernandez was arrested, the team has been looking for a way to recreate the two-tight end sets it used to such success with Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
A veritable parade of retreads followed. Tim Wright. Scott Chandler. There was the occasional bright spot but nothing approaching the good old days, when Gronkowski and Hernandez combined to terrorize opponents over the middle.
And Bennett gives the Patriots easily their best chance at recapturing that magic since Hernandez.
Sure, Bennett's 2015 numbers are nothing to write home about. Fifty-three receptions for 439 yards. Three touchdowns. Five missed games. One falling-out.
The season before, however, was a much different story. Bennett caught 90 balls, averaged over 10 yards per grab and found the end zone half a dozen times. The veteran made the Pro Bowl and ranked fifth at his position, per Pro Football Focus.
Bleacher Report's own Mike Freeman summed up succinctly what a healthy and motivated Bennett could mean for the Pats:
Martellus Bennett with Gronk is just unfair.— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) March 16, 2016
He's also an insurance policy of sorts for the oft-injured Gronkowski. Prior to last season, Bennett had been quite durable, missing only four games in seven seasons.
Granted, success for Bennett in New England is far from a sure thing. Known as the Black Unicorn, he is one of the NFL's more outspoken players, which he told Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times helped lead to his being labeled bad news by the Bears: "I just kind of keep my head down and go to work. Because when you say something, you become the [jerk], even if it’s a valid point. So I just avoid drama. They don’t play the [jerks]."
Of course, it might also have been the loafing in practice, per Biggs. Or slamming teammate Kyle Fuller to the ground during 2014 training camp, per Jahns. Or not even bothering to watch that game against the Packers he sat out, per both reporters.
Combined, those missteps ended Bennett's tenure in Chicago. In New England? Any one of them would likely bring down the fierce and vengeful wrath of Darth Hoodie.
Still, it isn't as though the Patriots have made a significant investment in Bennett. If he can't recapture old form or isn't willing to toe the line, he'll join Wright and Chandler as ex-Patriots.
However, if Bennett walks the straight and narrow and can come close to returning to the player he was just two years ago, he and Gronkowski will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night. Give them nightmares over the middle and in the red zone.
It's classic Patriots. Risk vs. reward. Minimizing the former while maximizing the potential for the latter.
There's a reason why everyone talks about "The Patriot Way" so much.
Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPSharks.