The higher the expectations soar for a football team, the lower the tolerance for shenanigans becomes.
Still, it came as a mild surprise Tuesday when Bears general manager Phil Emery so swiftly and decisively announced the indefinite suspension of tight end Martellus Bennett for conduct detrimental to a team thinking Super Bowl. Emery made the right move, even if the news came loudly and publicly from the GM one day after coach Marc Trestman said any discipline would be handled internally.
Bennett crossed the line 24 hours before Emery's announcement when he body-slammed rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller after Fuller attempted to strip the ball cleanly and knocked Bennett to the ground. And Chicago was worried about Fuller making a quick impact on this team.
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After teammates separated the players, Bennett dug his hole deeper when he reacted negatively to wide receiver Brandon Marshall's attempted intervention. Alienating a team leader seconds after attacking the organization's first-round draft pick is one way to break up the monotony of training camp, though not recommended.
Perhaps similar outbursts go on every day in camps across the NFL, but Bennett's clearly revealed a behavioral issue that runs deeper and threatens chemistry on a team coached by a man who values it. If that were not the case, Bennett would have been at practice Tuesday after a stern lecture instead of on leave until he rediscovers the meaning of professional. If this were an isolated incident of erratic behavior, to a man the Bears likely would have been defending a teammate who lost his cool instead of hoping a problem player gets fixed.
"We want the right Marty back," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "He had 65 catches (for 759 yards) last year, and he's a good person and a good father, and we want that guy on the field."
What happened to that guy? Has he regressed into the player whose immaturity was an issue with the Cowboys? Bad day or bad trend? Similar questions have come up occasionally about Bennett this offseason at Halas Hall.
It would be overstating matters to say the "Black Unicorn" just came one step closer to football extinction, but Bennett needs to realize rules apply to him, too, no matter how charismatic he acts in front of the cameras. When Bennett addressed reporters in Bourbonnais after the incident, it became clear he thought he could charm his way through a situation the Bears considered more serious than he did.
If Bennett's actions were bad, his subsequent words were worse. Glib attempts at humor fell flat, with Bennett saying "I can afford it" if the Bears fined him and mimicking Allen Iverson's famous line about practice. Even worse, Bennett stressed he wasn't "here for friendships," which is fine, except he plays for a new-age coach who openly encourages his players to establish relationships, to the point he rearranged the locker room at Halas Hall.
Maybe everybody will stop laughing at everything Bennett says now. Picking fights with rookies and defying authority isn't funny. Dogging it at practice isn't funny. Becoming a distraction for a focused team isn't funny. Levity has its place in a locker room, sure, but not if it always comes courtesy of a guy nobody can take seriously enough to consider reliable. Did you hear the one about the guy who laughed his way out of the league?
At 27, in his seventh NFL season, Bennett can view this forced vacation as an opportunity to redefine himself as a professional, a chance to redirect his career before episodes such as these become the rule rather than the exception. Or Bennett can return feeling miscast and misunderstood, like he just added The World to his personal 2014 schedule.
Emery had enough to worry about Monday night, looking for a potential replacement for injured No. 3 receiver Marquess Wilson, without having to wonder where Bennett's head is.
"This is a process that we're working with Martellus on," Emery said. "We are in contact with him. Our goal is to have Martellus back as soon as possible. He's a loved and respected teammate, and we want him back. But it's a process that we'll have to work with."
In acting so boldly, Emery did the best thing for the Bears, even if the GM's show of strength potentially weakened the perception of his coach. It was Trestman who ended practice early Monday because of the fight, and it should have been Trestman who announced the discipline because the Bears expect more from their players.
But at least somebody did what had to be done.