Seattle DE Michael Bennett will be testing the free agent market and will not be re-signing with the Seahawks before March 11th, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 6, 2014
A lot of people are saying they never expected Bennett to re-sign in Seattle before March 11th.
I’m not one of those people.
In fact, I fully expected the Seahawks to get this done before free agency.
Because Bennett is absolutely crucial to what this team managed to do last year.
It’s easy to sit here as Super Bowl Champions and bask in the glory of that success.
It’s also easy to forget just how integral Bennett was in getting it done.
Think back to 2012. The Seahawks were good enough to make the Super Bowl that year too.
So what really let them down?
The total reliance on Chris Clemons to provide a pass rush. That’s what.
He essentially was the teams pass rush.
Bruce Irvin had been drafted in to help — and he did to a certain degree. He had a few sacks, he had some impact in a specialist role.
But on early downs, Clemons was the man they relied on. And Clemons alone.
He had 11.5 regular season sacks out of a total 36. Throw in Irvin’s eight as a rookie and they combined for 54%.
No other player had more than three sacks.
This isn’t one of those situations where the numbers don’t paint the true picture. Clemons was the only guy creating consistent pressure and Irvin had an impact in obvious passing situations.
The Seahawks lost four games in 2012 where a lengthy fourth quarter drive proved costly.
Arizona (week 1), Detroit (week 8), Miami (week 12) and Atlanta (playoffs).
The final defeat to Atlanta ended their season.
When they needed a stop, when they needed to get to Matt Ryan with seconds remaining…
Not with Clemons nursing an ACL injury by that point.
Seattle knew they had to improve the pass rush and that’s why they went out and added Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett a year ago.
They knew they’d only get them both on short term deals — and to some extent, it was inevitable we’d come to this position.
Yet Bennett had such a defining impact in 2013, I truly thought it’d be a case of ‘over my dead body’ he entered the market. In the same way Earl Thomas or Richard Sherman almost certainly won’t hit free agency next year.
He was a weekly feature in Greg Bedard’s ‘Pressure Point’ articles, ranking among the top-10 edge rushers in the NFL all year.
He only had 8.5 sacks for the season, but how many close calls stopped that being much more?
Remember the ‘low hit’ on Matt Ryan? That’s just one example of several ‘nearly’ sacks for Bennett.
He was relentless, impacting games on a weekly basis.
When the playoffs came around, he was nearly unstoppable. Teaming up with Cliff Avril to destroy one side of the line, they forced and collected fumbles against the Niners. It followed a victory over the Saints, where Bennett forced and recovered another fumble.
Who can forget the big touchdown against New Orleans in week 13, setting the tone for a one-sided destruction?
I said it a few times on here during the season, and I still believe it now. You can make an incredibly strong argument that Bennett was Seattle’s defensive MVP last season.
We all appreciate Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. A few weeks after the season ended, their stock couldn’t be higher.
But during the season, it was Bennett who had the biggest say in turning Seattle’s defense from accomplished to elite.
They looked for this guy for so long. They wanted Jason Jones to fill that void — he couldn’t.
Having seen what this defense was capable of, risking losing such an integral piece just seemed so unlikely that the Seahawks would probably be willing to pay a little more to avoid that consequence.
Anyone who doesn’t believe that — let’s see what happens when the Thomas and Sherman talks heat up. Because I’m willing to wager neither will hit the market, even if it costs a few more dollars.
Schematically I also thought they’d be willing to make sure Bennett stayed in Seattle.
Having cut Red Bryant, you could see his snaps increasing next year as an every down end — finding a way to keep that double team with Avril on the field for a significant number of snaps.
It’d be difficult to imagine a defensive line next year minus Bryant and Bennett — and let’s not forget Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald are also free agents.
A sea-change up front is not what this team needs right now.
There’s every chance Bennett does still re-sign in Seattle. Several other players (Bryant, Brandon Mebane) were allowed to test the market only to re-sign eventually.
If he’s looking for a deal worth $9-10m, he might end up disappointed. I have a hard time thinking Seattle wouldn’t be willing to go for $8-9m.
But there are a lot of teams out there with plenty of cap room. Oakland have an absolute mountain to spend. So do Jacksonville.
His brother Martellus Bennett has been campaigning for him to join Chicago for weeks. The Bears need to bolster their defense.
So there’s at least some chance Seattle will be without Bennett going forward.
I also doubt it’ll be in any way ‘easy’ to replace him if he moves on to pastures new.
Lamarr Houston has played some end in Oakland, but for me he’s always looked more comfortable as a three technique rushing the interior. He’s 6-3 with short arms and a squat 300lbs body.
Bennett is taller and longer, with 25lbs less bulk to shift around the field.
Houston has 16 sacks in four years. Bennett has 21.5 in his last three since becoming a regular starter.
Anyone expecting Houston to go flying round the edge like Bennett — it aint happening.
Ditto Henry Melton. Again, Bennett is a defensive end who can play inside. He’s not a three technique convert. That’s what Melton would be. He’s also coming back from a serious knee injury.
They could go out and sign Jared Allen. In fact I fully expect the Seahawks to have some interest there.
He’s taller than Bennett and a similar weight (270 vs 274), but he’s an orthodox defensive end. The good thing about Bennett is his ability to play tackle and end, so you can line him up inside without fear while also starting Clemons and Avril on the edge.
It’s going to be tough for Seattle to find a replacement early in the draft. Kony Ealy ran a similar forty time (4.91 vs 5.00) but had an explosive three cone drill. He has similar size.
And yet his tape is pretty underwhelming and there’s no guarantee he makes it to #32 or has a similar impact. Bennett’s pretty unique at what he does.
You also have to weigh up the cost factor here. If you sign one of the three free agents named above for a deal worth $5-6m, Clemons might have to be retained on his current contract.
Ian Rapoport seems to think so…
That said, if Michael Bennett leaves would mean that Chris Clemons is safe in Seattle. Lots of dominoes on that one.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 6, 2014
Clemons doesn’t have to accept a pay cut after all. Unless you want to risk losing him too, you might have to stomach the cap hit.
If you’re spending $9m on Clemons and $5-6m on a new free agent, would you be better or worse off by franchising Bennett for $13m, cutting Clemons and putting your faith in Benson Mayowa, a future draft pick (Marcus Smith?) or even re-signing O’Brien Schofield?
Or perhaps even reverting Irvin back to the LEO?
This isn’t a criticism, I’m just throwing it out there. Again, all things could become very clear if his market is cold again in free agency and they get him back on a cap-friendly contract.
The Seahawks aren’t going to make life difficult for themselves by overpaying one player. They have a structure they believe in, and a price in mind.
Yet losing Bennett would have a major detrimental impact on the defense.
The last thing they want to do is go back to relying on a single individual (eg Avril) for a pass rush. Even an Avril, Allen and Clemons trio would be a downgrade for me.
Having reached the top, Seattle needs to keep the core elite together.
I’d put Bennett very much in that group, and that’s why I figured he’d be kept at all costs. Taking away the intrigue of the open market, by putting the intrigue on a piece paper with a Seahawks logo at the top and the words ‘SIGN HERE’ at the bottom.
In other news…
Seahawks interest in Taylor Martinez?
— Michael Grey (@TheMichaelGrey) March 6, 2014
The Nebraska quarterback is an intriguing prospect.
An incredible athlete, nobody really expects him to develop into a pro-passer at the next level.
Yet his size (6-1, 210lbs) and speed (electric) is worth some consideration at a different position.
I could definitely seem him being tried out at safety.
Kouandjio’s knee receives a thumbs up
Dr. Andrews sending his evaluation of Cyrus Kouandjio’s repaired knee to all NFL teams. Says knee is in good shape: http://t.co/CWtZedwx4D
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 6, 2014
I’m not sure if this news is enough to get him back into the first round mix, but it can only help Kouandjio’s dwindling stock.
Dr. Andrews’ backing doesn’t, however, provide any justification for his lousy display at the combine…
Go read this
— SB Nation NFL (@SBNationNFL) March 6, 2014
Just a terrific piece by Danny Kelly at Field Gulls.