By Jimmy Carlton Sportswriter Published Mar 10, 2017 at 9:11 PM

In one bold, unexpected and almost universally applauded decision, the tenor of Packers fans’ discontent with general manager Ted Thompson subsided, as the tremor of his major free agent move sunk in.

Green Bay signed tight end Martellus Bennett, the team announced early Friday evening, with the contract reportedly being for three years and about $21 million. Bennett is the Packers’ first unrestricted free-agent signing since 2012 and their biggest since inking Julius Peppers to a three-year deal in 2014.

The news was a surprise not only because Thompson is famously reluctant to make splashy moves, but also because, until Friday, many around the NFL thought the Packers were bringing back their own free-agent tight end, Jared Cook. Signed last offseason to a one-year, $2.75 million deal, Cook had a relatively quiet 2016 but emerged as a playmaker over the final two months and was a favorite of Aaron Rodgers. According to multiple reports, negotiations between Cook and the Packers were close Thursday night, but then stalled and the contract talks broke down Friday, with the player now visiting other teams.

As for Bennett, he seemed quite happy to celebrate his 30th birthday by officially joining Green Bay, posting a picture on his Instagram account wearing a Packers hat inside Lambeau Field.

@packers happy birthday me. Lol

A post shared by Martellus Bennett (@martellusb) on

Another person who seemed happy was Rodgers. The star quarterback, who’d been one of Cook’s most vocal supporters – immediately after the season ended, he said, "Jared Cook, I think, needs to be near the top of the priority list, the way he played this year," – also took to social media, ostensibly to express his positive feelings. Rodgers posted this to Twitter about 10 minutes after news broke about Bennett’s signing:

Ultimately, in signing Bennett, Thompson opted for a player who is one year older than Cook and arguably not as athletic, but vastly more productive over his career. Bennett played in all 16 games with 12 starts for the Patriots in 2016, catching 55 passes for 701 yards (12.7 average) and seven scores. He was tied for third in the league among tight ends in touchdown catches and ranked sixth at the position in yards per catch last year.

The Packers are plenty familiar with Bennett from his days with the division-rival Bears. He posted a career-high 90 receptions for 916 yards (10.2 average) and six scores in 2014 for Chicago, setting the single-season franchise record for catches for tight ends and earning Pro Bowl honors. He ranks No. 2 in Bears history for total yardage among tight ends.

Bennett has registered at least 50 receptions in each of the last five seasons, one of only three tight ends in the NFL to do so over that span. At the position, he ranks fourth in the league in catches (318), sixth in receiving yards (3,441) and tied for sixth in touchdowns (26) since 2012. The Cowboys’ 2008 second-round draft pick has played in 135 games with 100 starts during his nine professional seasons, with 403 receptions for 4,287 yards (10.6 average) and 30 touchdowns.

Bennett (6-foot-6, 265 pounds) is an inch taller and 10-15 pounds heavier than Cook, who is considered a faster, more physically gifted player. Last season, there were questions about Cook’s hands, while drops have never been a significant problem for Bennett. Despite the narrative that grew late in 2016 about Cook’s vital importance to the Packers’ offense, the tight end had, statistically, his worst season in six years. Missing six games due to injury, Cook finished with 30 catches for 377 yards and one touchdown in the regular season, though he had 18 receptions for 229 yards and two scores in three postseason games.

Bennett played through some minor ankle and shoulder injuries last season. He has become popular (some might say polarizing) among fans and media for his outspoken personality and willingness to speak his mind on everything from NFL policies to national politics and other issues. That didn’t bother New England coach Bill Belichick, so it shouldn’t affect Thompson, Mike McCarthy or anyone in Green Bay.

This was a huge move by Thompson, whether he really wanted Cook or was content to sign Bennett for reportedly less money. The 64-year-old GM has come under fire often during offseasons for almost entirely ignoring free agency when it comes to roster building, and Friday’s rumors that Cook was definitely not returning did little to quell fans’ sentiments that he was somewhat asleep at the wheel. But, it bears repeating – and indeed, it has been said many, many times before – when Thompson does decide to sign a big-name free agent, it often yields positive results: Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett, Julius Peppers, even Cook, whose postseason presence more than compensated for his subpar regular-season performance.

Bennett’s production, personality and experience – he caught five passes for 62 yards in the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory over the Falcons – are all major assets for a Green Bay offense that operates at a much higher level with a talented tight end who is a downfield threat and creates mismatches on defense. It appears Rodgers and the Packers have that player in Bennett.

Besides Bennett, Rodgers and, presumably, Thompson, many people on Twitter sounded happy about the news.

In other news Friday, Thompson announced the re-signing of offensive lineman Don Barclay. The versatile tackle/guard, who originally signed with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent out of West Virginia in 2012, played in 62 games with 24 starts during his first five seasons. He appeared in all 32 contests with six starts over the past two seasons, and has seen action at all five positions on the offensive line in his career. He started a career-high 14 games at right tackle in 2013.

Besides Bennett and Barclay, the Packers have also re-signed linebacker Nick Perry. Here was Green Bay’s free-agent outlook when the offseason began. Which move should they make next? Let us know in the comments!

Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.

After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.

Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.