As players milled around the MetLife Stadium field after the Giants' division-deciding win over Dallas in Week 17, Eli Manning received congratulations from a rather unlikely source. Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett, who wouldn't be going to the playoffs because of Manning's heroics, gave Eli an attaboy, followed by a request.
"I said, 'Hey, man, I'm going to be a free agent, so think about that as a possibility,' " Bennett said Tuesday. "He may have thought it was weird because we talked right after the game was over. It's tough to lose, everybody's mad, but I didn't play much that game, so that made it easier to talk about that to him."
Bennett eventually got his wish, signing a one-year, $2.5-million deal to fill in at a position ravaged by knee injuries to Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum. The free spirit, whose stream-of-consciousness interviews have showcased his eccentric personality, is making the most of that opportunity. Originally considered mostly as a blocker, Bennett has grasped the passing game quickly and has looked sharp in most training camp practices. Seam routes, crossing routes, end cuts . . . you name it, he'll get open and make the catch.
And he's not afraid to have a little fun. His colorful quotes probably would fit in better with the Jets, who face the Giants Saturday in their annual preseason game. Bennett opened camp with a profanity-laced screed against the Cowboys, saying he hated them. He also said he hated everybody in the NFL except his teammates and coaches. He was fined $22,000 as a Cowboys rookie for making a profanity-laced rap video.
But Bennett has grown on Tom Coughlin, the Giants' no-nonsense coach. "I don't like robots," said Coughlin, who actually did a version of "The Robot" at his Sunday media briefing. "I like to kid around with them once in a while, too."
Bennett has developed a reputation around the team as a fun-loving guy who will say just about anything to anyone. He has likened himself to Mahatma Gandhi, a black unicorn, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell and even Kim Kardashian. He said he'd like to make a movie about a black superhero. He loves to wear soccer jerseys from different countries -- Tuesday he sported a green replica of a jersey worn by Mexico's national team. He has several tattoos, including musical notes on his neck and "L-O-V-E" on a hand.
"All my teammates tell me I'm weird, but they like me," he said. "They say, 'You're like 10 cards short of a full deck.' I just like to have fun. This is just who I am. You know what they say: 'Be yourself, because everyone else is taken.' "
But once he gets on the field, he is all business. "I go as hard as I can on every single play, and I'm passionate about what I do," he said. "I just love playing football, being around my teammates, love making plays."
Bennett was a backup the last four years to Jason Witten, so he caught only 85 passes for 846 yards and four touchdowns. But he has a chance to become more involved in the passing game, although he says he's content to do whatever is asked of him.
"If they tell me to block, I'll block," he said. "They want me to catch 80 balls, I'll catch 80 balls. They want me to block 196 times in one game, I'll do it. I'm really a blue-collar football player. I just have a little swag."
Bennett has something else going for him: Giants tight ends coach Mike Pope, who helped shape Mark Bavaro, Zeke Mowatt, Jeremy Shockey, Kevin Boss and Ballard.
"He's very passionate about the tight end position," Bennett said. "Our relationship has grown tremendously. He feels he can trust me, and I feel like I can trust him. That's a big part of it."
Bottom line for Bennett: "It's a chance for me to start building something great on this team with great players. There is so much tradition on this team. If you can make your spot in history on the Giants, it says a lot."
It's all right there for him. Bennett believes he'll seize the moment, adding his unique touches along the way. Fascinating character. If he can play, you'll be seeing -- and hearing -- plenty more from him.