When fans and the media alike talk about the New York Giants' offseason, signing Martellus Bennett is never the focus of the conversation.
Retaining restricted free agent Victor Cruz is usually the first priority discussed, followed by shoring up the linebacker corps and improving the cornerback position. Bennett gets mentioned somewhere after Osi Umenyiora's future with the team and the potential of cutting the likes of Corey Webster and David Diehl.
Bennett, however, should be a key part of the Giants' plans in 2013 and beyond. With the deterioration of Big Blue's pass rush in 2012, the clear strength of this team is its offensive skill positions. Assuming the Giants re-sign Cruz, which is still up for debate, New York can consider the quarterback, wide receiver and even running back positions all above-average to elite. Re-signing Bennett would allow tight end to join this group.
The five-year veteran has made it clear he wants to stay in New York, even for less money than he may receive somewhere else, but he also wants to get compensated reasonably well and receive some long-term security. What type of contract, then, will get this done?
The best way to determine Bennett's value is to match him up with his peers who were comparable in production in 2012. Bennett caught 55 passes for 626 yards and five touchdowns this season. Jermichael Finley, Dennis Pitta, Brent Celek, Scott Chandler and Jacob Tamme all had similar years to Bennett.
First, I'll remove Pitta from this group. He is a restricted free agent and was vastly underpaid, according to Spotrac.com, during his rookie contract, when you consider how he produced in 2012. Also, on the opposite spectrum, Finley gets taken out of the mix because his $7 million average salary this season made him overpaid given his 2012 stats.
From the remaining group, Bennett should fall somewhere between Celek's eight-year, $34 million contract and what Chandler and Tamme are making. The latter two are both averaging slightly under $3 million per year, with Chandler signed to a two-year deal and Tamme under a three-year pact. Celek's contract contains guaranteed money of $11 million, while Tamme is guaranteed $3.5 million and Chandler's contract contains no guaranteed money.
Celek's deal was put in place through a six-year, $33 million extension he signed during the 2009 season. That year, the Eagles tight end finished fourth among players at his position, with 971 yards receiving. He was also tied for fourth in touchdowns, with eight, and seventh in receptions, with 76. Bennett clearly didn't have the same season in 2012 that Celek did in 2009.
Bennett, however, brings intangibles to the table that Celek doesn't. Despite his only slightly above-average statistics, Bennett was ranked fifth among all tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus. This is because he proved himself to be a solid run and pass blocker who received only two penalties all year. These intangibles won't command the big bucks that catches, receiving yards and touchdowns do, but they certainly help to up his value.
On the flip side, the fact that Bennett's resume boils down to one season also needs to be factored in and certainly hurts his value. Therefore, when everything is accounted for, Bennett is worth approximately a four-year, $20 million deal on the open market, with $5 million guaranteed.
When a slight hometown discount is included, the Giants should be able to retain Bennett by offering a four-year, $18 million deal with $4.5 million guaranteed. This contract is a good deal for New York considering Bennett's age (just turned 26 on January 10) and the fact that he still has some upside to his game. Bennett should be happy with this offer, since he gets the long-term security and money he desires in the place where he wants to stay.
A win-win for both parties and the ability to lock up the best tight end the Giants have had since a young Jeremy Shockey.
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