This Sunday, Martellus Bennett will be back in Cowboys Stadium for the first time without a star on his helmet. He'll be looking for his fourth touchdown of the season, which will match his four-year career total while he was with the Cowboys.
For some Dallas fans, the choice to allow Bennett to leave the organization could not have come soon enough. Many felt that the 6-6 tight end did not possess the attitude or work ethic to translate his athletic ability into results on the field.
It since has become clear that Bennett had been anxious to part ways with the Cowboys as well. During the summer, he was on record as saying he wanted to "kick the Cowboys' asses," and he recently pointed out that he and Eli Manning are "a lot closer (than he was) with Romo." After four years of playing the backup to Jason Witten, Bennett searched for a new place to call home.
And the division rival New York Giants welcomed him with open arms. The Giants found an opportunity to not only fill a huge need, but also perhaps acquire a player with a little extra incentive to beat a team they play twice a year. Giants' coach Tom Coughlin explained the convenience in signing Bennett.
"We felt he's motivated to be here and we were in a situation where we needed to do something about that spot," Coughlin said. "We'd lost two players in the Super Bowl to ACL's so it was good timing for Martellus and good timing for us."
Bennett quickly rewarded the Giants with something the Cowboys had no longer expected from him: production. In fact, he set a franchise record with the Giants by recording a touchdown reception in each of his first three games. Bennett currently has 305 yards on the season, which is more than he recorded in any one year with the Cowboys.
So the question is, where was this side of Bennett during his time in Dallas? Obviously, playing time is a big factor. Behind a perennial Pro Bowler like Jason Witten, Bennett was never going to get a ton of opportunities. Motivation to prove people wrong could also have something to do with his inspired play. But when Coughlin talked about Bennett's abilities, he implied that the tight end is actually a better player than he was before.
"He's athletic, he's long," Coughlin said. "He can catch the football. He runs well. He doesn't shy away from the blocking responsibilities. He's improved and gotten better and there's more that he can do."
In four years with the Cowboys, Bennett was never known as a great "locker room guy." His maturity level was thought not to be one that was suitable for a team with championship aspirations. However, Giants' defensive end Justin Tuck, who is one of the Giants' leaders, explained on Wednesday that there have been no problems with Bennett and that his teammates are happy to have him.
"I think he fits in well," Bennett said. "He's a character, no question, but I think he's done a good job of doing what the team needs him to do well. He's a huge target for Eli. … I think Martellus has done a great job as far as coming in and working his butt off and trying to fit into a different atmosphere. I think it's paying off
Bennett may be thriving in a "different atmosphere," but this Sunday he will be returning to his old atmosphere of Cowboys stadium as he hopes to help his current team avoid being swept by his former club. He will likely be welcomed with a steady chorus of boos from fans who expected more from him during his time in Dallas.
While the message from Cowboy fans to Bennett might not be the most endearing, Tuck wasn't afraid to give a message of his own to the Cowboys regarding Martellus Bennett.
"I appreciate y'all for letting him go."